Coding Boot Camps

Do You Need Prior Experience?

June 25, 2016

If you're contemplating applying to a coding boot camp, and are hoping to break into the world of programming, be aware - when someone says you don't need experience, what they really mean is, you do. Now don't panic, I'm not saying you need experience in the form of a prior job or programming course. However, you definitely cannot get away with knowing nothing.

Not so long ago, naïve little me thought that when you apply to a coding school, that you could enter with a very small pool (puddle?) of knowledge. I mean, if you're trying to get into a school so the all wise and all knowing can teach you, what does it matter if you're going in with bupkis? Turns out, that even when an application says that no programming experience is required, you at least need to know how to write some code and how to solve problems.

I spent the first 5-6 months of my self-lead journey into programming learning the fundamentals. I watched videos, read books, completed online tutorials, and could type out code for lessons like it was nobody's business. I thought that this would be enough. I figured, as long as I could prove that this was something I really wanted to do and had been cramming, it would be enough. Unfortunately for me, I discovered, on 2 occasions, that the bar is set pretty high for potential students. The application process for boot camps, from my experience, include something along the lines of the following:

  • An initial application: resume, essay questions, details etc.
  • A pre-challenge: the problems vary but typically require some code writing and problem solving.
  • Soft skills interview: in person, phone, or Skype.
  • Technical interview: I'm not sure if this is a part of the application process for every boot camp but they do exist. If you're not sure what it is, basically, you'll get a problem to solve somewhat like the pre-challenge problem, but there's a twist. You won't get to type the code. You'll either have to write it by hand or verbally explain to the interviewer what you would do while they type for you

To give yourself a shot at success:

  • Build some stuff: Don't focus purely on fundamentals. Nothing will truly stick until you sit in front of a blank text editor and try and build something.
  • Solve some problems: Do an Internet search for programming problems, pick one, and try to solve it. Start simple and gradually increase the complexity. It may seem impossible at first but push past the doubt and keep trying. You'll need this skill to survive your application process.
  • Practice writing code by hand, and speak it aloud: If you're struggling to solve problems in your text editor then you are in for a world of pain when your computer when your computer is taken out of the picture. If you've never done it, trying to imagine the complexity of it pales in comparison to reality. Even if you are starting to get a good grasp on programming and can solve some simple problems, you'll be amazed how it all flies out of your head when y our not in front of a screen. Verbally talking about how you'd solve a problem while someone else is talking is just as hard, if not harder.

So why do coding boot camps do this? Why can't you leave absolutely all the teaching to them? Most coding boot camps offer a 12 week course which, in the grand scheme of things, is a very small time frame to take you from zero to one hundred. In a class of 20 or so people, where there's a mixture of skill levels - some, a fair bit, and absolutely nothing - it becomes hard to get everyone up to speed by the end of the program. In other words, if you come in with absolutely nothing to offer, you're going to hold up the rest of the class. It's unlikely that you'll find a class where everyone is on the exact same page, but it is important that instructors admit students who are at least in the same chapter.

Some handy resources to get you started:

Share this post: