Coding bootcamp, worth it or not? My experience at Horizons School of Technology

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This summer, I flew from Hong Kong to San Francisco to participate in a coding bootcamp held by Horizons School of Technology. After three months of intense coding, brainstorming and hacking, I am pleased to say that I have graduated.

Coding bootcamps are notorious for being expensive. People also say they are career-changing, or even life-changing experiences. Obviously, attending one single bootcamp doesn’t make me an expert in the field. However, I hope my experience can serve as a reference to help you decide whether or not you should embark on such an adventure.

Last July (2016), this email popped up:

Dear Students,

Below please find the invitation to the Horizons Fellowship. For details, please refer to the website of the Fellowship.

Kindly note that HKUST is not involved in the said fellowship program and will not bear any responsibility regarding the program. If you have any questions about the program, please contact the organizer directly.

Regards

School of Engineering

Below the email was an advertisement from Horizons. It promised to support “outstanding university students in their pursuit to become tomorrow’s leaders in technology”. Interesting.

A Google search on “Horizons School of Technology” resulted in nothing except their homepage and a few of their blog posts. To make things worse, my school’s reluctance to “bear any responsibility regarding the program” made Horizons sounds like a total scam.

But as a computer nerd, I was nevertheless intrigued. Upon further research, I curated a list of what the $10k program could offer:

  • Frontend development: HTML, CSS, Javascript, Bootstrap, jQuery, React.js, Redux
  • Backend development: Express, Passport.js, Mongoose, OAuth 2.0
  • Deployment: Heroku
  • Mobile development: React Native, Expo
  • Source Control: Git, GitHub
  • Speaker series, where successful entrepreneurs share their life stories
  • TA support while learning
  • Networking with smart and motivated students
  • Experience living in San Fransisco

Eventually, I decided that practical software engineering skills and vision in the entrepreneurial world were exactly what I needed. Talking to staff and students at Horizons also cleared my skepticism. Fast forward a year, I applied, interviewed, got accepted and was on my way to San Fransisco.

It was at that moment when I stumbled upon a $10 Udemy course that offered more or less the entire Horizons coding curriculum, front-end to back-end. Half of the list that I wrote a year ago now equated to $10. I thought long and hard — was the rest of the list worth $9,990 and 3 months of my summer?

I think so. Hear me out.

The first thing I really enjoyed at the bootcamp was being surrounded by smart and motivated students. People stayed way past standard hours till 9–10pm to work on exercises. People were also very supportive and helpful. I’m glad my peers pushed me and made me work hard. I’m pretty sure the whole syllabus, although available from other sources, would have taken me a year or two to learn by myself. It’s amazing how almost everyone (yes, some quit because they weren’t comfortable with the learning style or realized they weren’t interested in software engineering) was able to complete the syllabus in 1.5 months (and survived to go home).

The latter 1.5 months were dedicated to hands-on projects. In the first two weeks, we worked in teams and created a Slack scheduler bot and a Google Docs clone. In the last three weeks, we worked on whatever we want. For my team, we created a real-time discussion platform for university lectures called Classly. That’s another thing you can’t get from Udemy — experience working in a team. We thought about user experience, we designed the code architecture, we delegated tasks, we had deadlines, we argued, and, we made it through. There’s a huge difference between knowing how to code and knowing how to build software in real life. That experience is certainly important to any new software developer.

I also gained much more than technical knowledge. A huge part of the bootcamp was about entrepreneurial perspectives. We were fortunate enough to be able to hear from many high-profile entrepreneurs through the Horizons Speaker Series. Hearing their stories, advice and insights into the tech world was helpful. However, what struck me even more was that they were just normal people like you and me. They weren’t super intelligent androids. I realized that with the right skills, team and dedication, we too can achieve what they have done. I can’t overstate how important that is.

Another part I enjoyed was living right in Silicon Valley. My gym was next to Twitter HQ. We had lunch at AirBnB’s canteen. When we went out for dinner, we walked past Pinterest and Adobe. It was crazy! A high concentration of tech companies also meant an overwhelming number of tech events, meetups and hackathons. Instead of going to the movies at night, I went to Twitter to hear about data science. I went to AirBnB to hear about social entrepreneurship. And then I went to three hackathons on three weekends, back-to-back-to-back (which I wrote about here). I had so much fun.

All in all, I had a fantastic summer. It’s easy to dismiss my opinion and say that I’m biased because I went to the bootcamp. Perhaps so. All I can say is that I’d have done it again if I went back to the time when I received that email.

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