The Journey to Fullstack, Part 2: The Bootcamp Admissions Process

October 17, 2016

Once I had made the decision to apply to a bootcamp, the question then became: which ones? There are now more options than ever available to those wanting to attend, and it can be a daunting task to sift through them all and find one that fits what you’re looking for.

I started off with three main criteria. The first was that it was either located in Austin, where I currently live, or that it was online. I theoretically have the capability to pick up and move, but there were several logistical challenges with that that I preferred to avoid if I could. The second was that the curriculum would offer both breadth and depth. I wanted a program that taught full-stack development, but I also wanted to understand why and how things worked the way they did, and not just how to write code. I also wanted a focus on CS fundamentals, algorithms, and data structures. I don’t have a CS background, so it was important to me that these were part of the curriculum.

The last was, because I had spent months learning on my own prior, that it would take me from “20–120,” and not “0–60.” A program that takes someone from “0–60” would be one that takes people who have maybe never seen a line of code, or people who have a very rudimentary knowledge of coding, and gets them to a workable level. A program that takes someone from “20–120” will typically accept people who have built up a higher level of knowledge, whether gained through teaching themselves, working through courses on platforms like CodeSchool or Codeacademy, or have taken bootcamp prep/fundamentals courses that are offered by various organizations. Because their students start off at a slightly more advanced level, the programs are able to teach and do more than the “0–60” programs.

By the Numbers

So, with those in mind, I set off on my search. Here’s how things panned out. The number of programs I…

  • Very heavily considered*: 8
  • Of those, those that were online: 4 (the other 4, in-person)
  • Applied to: 6
  • Never heard a peep back from: 1
  • Got an interview from: 5
  • Interviewed with: 3
  • Was accepted to: 3
  • Withdrew from before having the interview**: 2

*Very heavily considered basically means I did a ton of research into, and maybe even talked to someone who worked in admissions or as an instructor for the program prior to applying.

**I’ll go into this a little more later, but I actually didn’t apply to all 6 in a huge batch — I applied to a couple at a time and waited to complete at least most of the process before doing more. I was accepted into great programs with offers I couldn’t refuse before I interviewed with those 2, and decided to withdraw from the process at that time.

The Programs

Okay, now that we have all of that out of the way, here’s a summary of the programs that looked into, my impressions, and the result of the process and why I made the decisions that I did.

The Firehose Project

Location: Online

Summary: 22 weeks. New people start every Monday. Weekly 1-on-1 meetings with your mentor. Cumulates in a group project, where you work with a group of people to simulate a real-life agile team.

FHP, as it’s sometimes abbreviated, doesn’t really have the normal admissions process. They have a two-week free intro course, and anyone that completes it and decides that they want to pursue the full program can. My interaction with FHP consisted of doing the first week of the intro course, and then having an extensive conversation with Marco, one of the founders and mentors. Marco was very open about the program itself and was extremely helpful in describing the pros and cons of FHP. He was also very willing to connect me with alumni, should I want that option.

Result: I didn’t end up finishing the intro course and pursuing this further. The overall structure also seemed a bit laxer than what I was looking for in a lot of ways. First, a “batch” of people started every Monday, and people were entering and finishing every week. A lot of students have very different goals — some want a career change and become a full-fledged professional developer, some wanted just enough technical information to enter the entrepreneurship realm, some wanted to gain some technical skills to help them in their current job. Similarly, there’s a wide variety of commitment levels that students have throughout the program — some quit their job to focus on it full-time, and others work full-time in their current jobs while going through the program.

I also really didn’t like the fact that I’d only be able to meet with a mentor just once a week and it seemed like the majority of the curriculum was independent and done on your own time, rather than extended periods of pair programming and working with others. Great for some, just not what I personally was looking for.

Fullstack Academy (Remote Immersive)

Location: Online

Summary: 17 weeks, Monday through Saturday. First four weeks are Foundations, which is more independently-driven. Next seven weeks are the bulk of learning, and are based more in lectures and pair programming. Last four weeks are almost entirely project-based. Campuses in New York City and Chicago in addition to online, non-full-time options available.

There was the standard written application, with questions about your education, your background, your experience with coding, why do you want to do this program, etc. After submitting that, I was sent a coding assessment that consisted of 5 problems that had to be done in 75 minutes. I was able to complete the first four in about 45 minutes, and never ended up figuring out the last one completely. Despite this, I was still invited to interview, so when they say they really want to see how you think, they definitely mean that!

I interviewed with a fellow, a previous student who performed extremely well during the program and is selected to serve as a teaching assistant of sorts for incoming cohorts. The interview consisted of a “let’s talk about you” part, followed by a pair programming/coding challenge part, followed by questions. The interview was really what made me love Fullstack. I got along really well with my interviewer, and I felt much more like I was pairing with someone than in any of my other interviews. I could bounce ideas off of my interviewer and he’d offer his thoughts, he made fun of me for my weird propensity toward nested functions, and even when he didn’t know what something would result in, we worked through it together and were able to figure it out. Following the coding portion, there was a chance to ask him questions — we were already at our time limit by then, but he graciously stayed to answer all of the questions I had.

Result: Accepted! With a pretty large scholarship to boot. In attempt to attract people to their new program but also to make their program accessible to anyone who has the capability to be admitted, they’ve set aside a $500,000 scholarship fund for the first few cohorts, and from my experience, they’re definitely not afraid to use it.


Location: Austin, TX

Summary: 24 weeks, Monday through Friday. Divided into quarters, each focusing on a different aspect of development. Cumulates in a final project. Campuses also in Boulder, Denver, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Seattle.

There was a standard written application, and then a “pre-challenge.” It was a singular, longer problem, had no time limit, and took me a couple of hours to complete. Then, I had a phone conversation with someone in the admissions department. This was entirely behavioral and was very similar to the written essay questions.

The technical interview was next, and was conducted by a former student from the Denver campus. The interview consisted of a “let’s talk about you” part, and a live coding portion that consisted of one problem that I found very easy. After I solved it on my own, my interviewer took me through other ways that it could be solved. I then had an opportunity to ask questions, and we ended up getting on a side tangent about a Ruby Rogues podcast that had just come out about being transparent about your pay.

Result: Accepted, with a full scholarship!

Hack Reactor (Remote) & MakerSquare

Location: Hack Reactor — Online, MakerSquare — Austin, TX

Summary: 12-13 weeks, Monday through Saturday. Very similar to Fullstack, in that the first half is primarily learning and the second half is project-based. Hack Reactor has a campus located in San Francisco in addition to online. MakerSquare campuses are located in Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco, in addition to Austin.

There was one application for all Hack Reactor schools, which required you to have a fundamental knowledge of objects, functions, and arrays to even submit. I was invited to attend technical interviews with both Hack Reactor and MakerSquare, the former over Skype and the latter in person.

Result: Applications withdrawn. I had received acceptances from Fullstack and Viking (see below) before these interviews, and with a giant scholarship from Fullstack and the deferred tuition model of Viking, I didn’t think it made sense to pursue two other options that would cost me ~18k up-front in tuition alone.

The University of Texas, Part-Time & Full-Time Programs

Location: Austin, TX

Summary: Part-time program is 24 weeks, Monday & Wednesday & Saturday or Tuesday & Thursday & Saturday. Full-time program is 12 weeks, Monday through Friday.

The application for these I assume* are similar: a written application, then an interview/pair programming/live coding challenge session with an instructor.

The part-time program was very new when I was considering it — they hadn’t graduated anyone yet, though they had two cohorts in the pipeline. I talked to an admissions officer when I was considering the part-time program, and I was very turned off by the fact that they weren’t willing to put me in touch with any of the current students or instructors so that I could ask them questions about the program. I eventually decided I wanted a full-time program, so I didn’t apply.

When I discovered they were beginning a full-time program, I completed the online application, and then never heard anything back. (*This is why I’m only assuming the application processes are similar and don’t actually know for sure.)

I’ve since heard mixed reviews about this program. They seem to have established good connections with hiring companies in Austin, but it seems like they’re still trying to iron out A LOT of issues in their program and it seems to have much more of a focus on breadth over depth. Once they figure out their issues, it’ll be interesting to see what their program looks like.

Viking Code School

Location: Online

Summary: 16 weeks, Monday through Friday. Deferred tuition model, so you only pay once you get a job. Cumulates in a final project. Part-time flex program available.

Standard written application. One thing to note is that the answer lengths are heavily constrained; I wrote relatively long answers (as in, multiple paragraphs for each question) without realizing this and then had to spend a good amount of time trying to cut each one down by a significant amount. Following that is an online coding challenge, during which you have 60 minutes to solve three problems. I personally thought that the online coding challenge was relatively easy and straightforward and I was able to solve them in half the time allotted (and that was including ten minutes at the end reviewing my code and ensuring everything worked as it should have).

Then, I had an interview with Erik Trautman, the founder, CEO, and primary instructor of the program. It started with three live coding challenges, each with specific time limits. I took a little more time than I should have on each of the problems, and so we rushed through the “tell me about yourself” portion of the interview, and I only had a few more minutes at the end to ask questions. Interestingly, it wasn’t a video call — it was just a normal audio call. I struggled a little bit with the last two problems and didn’t end up completing them. Erik was silent for almost the entire time I was working, and provided zero guidance one way or another when I would ask questions or throw an idea out, which was a little frustrating.

Result: Despite not being able to complete two of the three problems, I was accepted, with a full scholarship!

Read the other posts in this series:

Part 1: The Beginning

Part 3: The Final Decision