21 August 2013

I Survived Dev Bootcamp

Tyler Shipe is a talented and creative guy, who found himself working a desk job at a financial services company. A self-described child of “geeks”, and increasingly interested in the world of programming, he decided to take the plunge and apply to Chicago’s Dev Bootcamp.

We’re really excited by this brave new world of innovative software education, and can’t wait to bring the opportunity to Cincinnati. Thankfully, Tyler survived, and was willing to tell us all about his amazing experience. One thing is for sure. Whoever scoops up this guy is going to be getting their money’s worth.

My Journey Into Software Development

Three months ago, I had no real software development experience. Today, I’m building multiple full-stack web applications using Ruby, Rails, Javascript, HTML and CSS. This accelerated learning is a result of the past nine weeks I’ve spent at Dev Bootcamp, an immersive software development program.

Prior to applying for Dev Bootcamp, I was working a desk job at a financial services company. As great of an opportunity as that was, I found myself getting a little bored. I wanted to be creating things. I wanted to be involved with something that was just as much an art as a science.

After reading through an issue of Make magazine, I became attracted to the idea of robots and decided to take the plunge. I bought a robot kit and went to work. This was my first real introduction to programming and I loved it. Solving problems through code was empowering.

I tried to consume as much as I could on the subject of computer science; from books on algorithms, to online courses on databases, and interactive tutorials on web development. I found the vast world of programming both overwhelming and exciting.

Dev Bootcamp

The desire to increase the breadth and depth of my programming knowledge, led to my interest in Dev Bootcamp. This bootcamp style of immersive learning appealed to me as I disagree with some of our age-old approaches to education. I liked the idea of fewer lectures and more coding. Learning by solving real challenges and building interesting applications seemed more effective than reading a textbook.

I was attracted to Dev Bootcamp specifically, as it was one of the first to try this immersive format and have success. They also had a record of graduating students whom employers wanted to hire. I was reassured of these facts after finding blogs of past students who chronicled their daily experience leading up to, during, and after the program. On top of this, they were selective - of the 200 people that applied for the first Dev Bootcamp session, only 20 were accepted. I was up for the challenge.


The application process for Dev Bootcamp was quite extensive. Along with a text-based application which asked questions like “tell us something surprising or amusing that you have discovered,” I was also required to submit a video of myself teaching them something. This helped Dev Bootcamp get a glimpse of my personality by seeing how I teach. I decided to teach them how to “cook” my favorite raw, vegan meal!

After the initial application and video round, I moved on to a Skype interview with a staff member. The interviewer used this time to get to know more about me and ask some logic problems. He explained that the questions weren’t necessarily to see if I could come up with the right answer, but to see my thought process - as I was encouraged to verbally think through the problem and ask questions.

Fortunately, I was accepted! However, the process didn’t stop there. I entered the 30-day “prep phase.” During this time, I was required to complete multiple challenges and tutorials on my own. The challenges included things such as implementing a reverse polish notation calculator and implementing FizzBuzz.

At the end of the prep phase, we faced the final hurdle to entering the program: an assessment. The questions tested our knowledge on basic data-structures, algorithms, and object-oriented principles. The assessments were returned in a few days with feedback on each solution. Based on the assessments, some students were not allowed to proceed and others were required to refactor before proceeding.

The application, prep phase, and assessment all felt intense at the time. However, I now realize how necessary it is. Even with these filters in place, there were still students who started the program that were not able to keep pace and either dropped out or were asked to leave.

Feedback loop

Although it may deter some students, I think a more demanding and extensive prep phase would be beneficial. Most students spend an average of 8-10 hours a day, for 9 weeks, learning new material and coding. Additional prep work would help ease students into the pace that Dev Bootcamp moves, as well as solidify the foundation that is required to be successful in the program. Fortunately, the staff at Dev Bootcamp embrace feedback and are constantly looking for ways to tweak their process.

This philosophy was evident during my first week when a fellow student asked the co-founder of Dev Bootcamp, “What is it about this program that has enabled me to learn at such a rapid pace compared to when I tried on my own?” He responded, “I think it’s a thousand little decisions that we’ve gotten right over time.”

An agile approach toward the program has allowed it to succeed in teaching not only technical topics but also behavioral topics. We were encouraged to expose our ignorance and fail fast while pair programming. This type of feedback loop was integral to the program, and many employers were pleased to see a culture of feedback, self-awareness, and empathy infused in the students.


By combining eager students with passionate instructors and an immersive environment, coding novices were transformed into Jr. Software Developers in only 9-weeks. The experience was exhausting and a test of mental endurance. However, I learned more about programming and myself than I ever expected. The formula for this innovative style trade school may not be perfect, but it certainly removed many inefficiencies from the typical approach to education. I encourage other beginners who are passionate about software development to consider this option to jump start your learning. As a Cincinnati native, I’m especially excited to learn that Gaslight is starting a similar program, Web School Cincinnati, in 2014.

Heads up! This article may make reference to the Gaslight team—that's still us! We go by Launch Scout now, this article was just written before we re-introduced ourselves. Find out more here.

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