Dev Bootcamp students attend a lecture on Active Record.

Three years ago, 14 students signed up to be in the first cohort of Dev Bootcamp, the San Francisco-based bootcamp that opened one of the first programming-focused code bootcamps in Chicago.

At the time, it was a little uncertain what they were getting into. In 2013, only 2,178 students graduated code bootcamps. However, since then that number has grown to over 16,000 in 2015 as more and more students take a chance on the immersive programming courses.

Many code bootcamps report a high job placement rate (though most measure in slightly different ways)–at Dev Bootcamp, 90 percent of students get a job within six months. But what happens after the first job? How does this credential play out over time? And what do bootcamps have to do to be sure their grads get jobs?

We checked in with several members of the first cohort of Dev Bootcamp Chicago  to see where they are three years out of the program. 13 students completed the program (one dropped out). All are still working in tech today, and have worked at companies such as Pebble, Sprout Social, Signal, and Braintree. One started his own code bootcamp for veterans, launching this month.

Students’ trajectory post-bootcamp gives a sense of how a nascent education option can shape in a programming career.

Why did they do it?

Lora Abe, a developer at Treehouse
Lora Abe, a developer at Treehouse.

Lora Abe, a current web developer at Treehouse (a startup based in Orlando, Fla.), found out about Dev Bootcamp through a TechCrunch article.She previously worked in startups and had been interested in programming for awhile, but wasn’t sure how to make the leap.

“Part of me originally balked at the idea of paying a not-insignificant sum of money to learn something I felt I should have been able to teach myself, but all my previous attempts to do just that had always failed,” she said to Chicago Inno over email. “I liked that the bootcamps offered a clear-cut path, I liked that they (usually) provided post-graduation career advice and guidance, and I loved the immersive model.”

For Andrew Stamm, now a programmer at Eight Bit Studios, who previously worked as a designer in print media, was also intrigued by the immersive style of bootcamps and the opportunity to make a career switch quick. “As far as an education model, for the situation I was in where I’d be quitting a current job and going 3-4 months without income, it was ideal, in that the compressed timeline allowed me to get looking for a job in a pretty short period of time,” he said over email.

Several members of the cohort acknowledge there was a risk in taking time off to dive headfirst into programming, but Danny Houk, now a solutions engineer at Braintree, who previously worked in accounting, said it was worth it for the chance at a career change.

“A lot of people talked about it being a really big risk, but I know I felt like not doing it was the bigger risk in that situation,” he said.

How did they get jobs?

Code bootcamps, despite their growing graduates, are still a very new education option. Graduates said there have been times they have to prove their worth against computer science graduates, and have to navigate companies and a job market that might not have the support to bring on a developer with less traditional experience. That’s why bootcamp graduates really need to commit to coding, said Rodrigo Levy.

“The components you need to succeed really as a software developer when you’re first starting is a passion for programming and a reasonable level of intelligence,” said he said. “It’s the passion that drives the determination.”

Rod Levy, executive director of Code Platoon (Courtesy of Rod Levy)
Rod Levy, executive director of Code Platoon (Courtesy of Rod Levy)

Levy, now the executive director of Code Platoon, an 1871-based code bootcamp for veterans (currently in its first cohort), initially worked as an junior software developer at NCSA Athletic Recruiting after Dev Bootcamp. The skills you get in a bootcamp are often just the fundamentals, he said, and student often do a lot of learning once on the job.

Garrett Boone, now a developer at Q1 Media in Austin, agreed. “It’s not a career that everyone will like,” he said. “Many people I think get disappointed when it’s not for them and they just spent money for something they don’t really enjoy and so they get a job…but does not progress the company or themselves in terms of learning more and keeping up with standards and changes in the field. Companies need to make sure they are hiring people who are passionate.”

Houk, who started off as a technical support representative at Braintree before getting his current job as a solutions engineer, said the job search also often depends on whether companies had the infrastructure to onboard graduates with less training than a traditional degree.

“A lot of time there is pushback, because…[companies] want you to have a good experience at their company too, so they don’t want to bring you on and throw you into a place where you’re set up to fail,” he said. “They want to have mentorship they want to have the right people in place to have you learn and continue to learn. It alerts companies that…in order to onboard grads that could turn into developers down the road, they need to have some mentors in place along the way.”

A word to the wise: hustle is necessary. Henry Wang, now a growth engineer at Survey Monkey, moved out to San Francisco after finishing the program and said he spent several months in “a half-searching, half-working limbo,” getting by through referral projects from friends. Eventually he landed a full-time contract role as a web developer, and under a year later joined Survey Monkey in San Francisco.

Looking ahead

Not everyone ended up using their Dev Bootcamp experience as they moved forward in their tech careers. Earl Wagner, now a tech contractor in Houston, said the companies he applied to weren’t interested in his experience. Eventually he moved to Houston, and was able to pick up IT work. Though he’s not using the skills he learned in the bootcamp in his current work, he said he enjoyed it as an experience in itself.

Andrew Stamm, a developer at Eight Bit Studios. (Courtesy of Andrew Stamm)
Andrew Stamm, a developer at Eight Bit Studios. (Courtesy of Andrew Stamm)

Stamm got his job as a web developer at Eight Bit Studios right out of the bootcamp and was immediately expected to program. “They literally threw me right into the deep-end, I think on my first day at Eight Bit Studios I was already working on production code for clients,” he said. “The first few months of my job were a constant stream of on-the-job learning, with a lot of support from my coworkers. “Actually, I’ve been here for 2 ˝ years now and I still find that it’s been a great learning environment.”

Since that first cohort, Dev Bootcamp Chicago has graduated over 600 students in over 30 cohorts. Students said they have only seen the acceptance of bootcamps grow over time. Wang said he wasn’t asked about his education background in any of his interviews. Wagner said most hiring managers he interacted with mostly cared if he had the skills they needed.

“The proliferation of genuinely good bootcamps and the success rates of bootcamp graduates going on to join development teams has played a huge role in changing hiring conversations from ‘How much do you know and how similar is your background to ours? to ‘How well can you learn and grow and adapt?'” said Abe, the developer at Treehouse.

Levy was so taken with his experience at a code bootcamp, he decided to launch one of his own. On February 1, the first cohort of Code Platoon arrived at 1871 to begin programming classes.

“I think the bootcamp model is not just powerful, but there is evidence that it is becoming a widely accepted alternative form of education for either people to do it as an academic pursuit, but more practically for people to do it as a professional pursuit,” he said. “I’m encouraged by it and I think it will help alleviate some of the career transition issues that a lot of folks are facing.”

Levy was so taken with his experience at a code bootcamp, he decided to launch one of his own.

Their main concern is that there’s a growing number of bootcamps, some without proven results or job placement rates, which has drawn criticism.  Dave Hoover, founder of Dev Bootcamp Chicago, said he anticipates that the ones that don’t deliver will fall to the wayside.

“We’re not going to see a lot of new players come in that are going to be substandard,” he said. In the meantime, he said Dev Bootcamp has put extra effort into pre-bootcamp preparation and resources after the program.

He pointed out as bootcamp graduates flood the market, employers are growing less skeptical, and the success of previous students allows future students to make their decision with more confidence. “Students have a better perception that this can be possible,” he said. “More people are out ahead of them, showing them that it is possible.”