Three months ago, I left my job at an amazing tech company in San Francisco to build a coding education program to teach people iOS development. This is my (brief) story.

Phase 1: My Education

To my family, education was always not just important, but simply expected. My parents would have considered it a failure  had I not graduated from a top university in a “good” field. Growing up, I always had after school tutoring in every subject imaginable. I always excelled in school, not due to my effort, but due to being so far ahead in my studies. I wildly took advantage of this, and did the bare minimum to scrape by with As (anything less was considered simply unacceptable).

In college, all of the extra tutoring stopped and I quickly squandered my lead over other self-motivated students. I realized the value in all the hands-on education I had growing up. Luckily, my head start on life gave me just enough horsepower to land a job in one of the top tech companies in the world. Having barely made it through school was the wakeup call I needed to start taking life into my own hands. Since then, I’ve learned because I wanted to, not because I was forced to, and I’ve learned more about engineering and life than I ever did growing up.

My story is not one that every person can tell. By the time many people become conscious decision-making adults, it is often too late to make a drastic change in life. Looking back, I realized that my education was the greatest gift my parents ever gave me. I knew so many people who weren’t so lucky, transitioning from job to job and barely making ends meet. It struck me that I gained an education almost against my will, and this upbringing is what gave me my life of choice. For many people, the choices they’d like to make are not ones they can afford. I decided that I needed to do my part in making the choice of education accessible to all with the drive to put in the work. And so, I became a mentor at a coding bootcamp.

Phase 2: Becoming a Mentor
I mentored at a coding bootcamp the summer of 2014. I was assigned a mentee and my responsibilities were to help her brainstorm, plan, and execute a personal web project. For three months, I got to see her grow from not knowing what a variable was, to seeing her put together her own web project. It was one of the most rewarding and humbling experiences I ever had, and it started my obsession with teaching. However, despite my overwhelming positive experience in my new role, there were several problems with the bootcamp.

The Cost
In the San Francisco Bay Area, The average boot camp costs on average 15-20k per student for about 12 weeks of instruction. Course Report has a fairly extensive list of available bootcamps. Note that some of costs listed on here do not include the fee that some boot camps collect from the companies that hire their students. Unlike traditional universities, boot camps also have significantly less help on the financial aid front. Much of the aid comes from self-fundraising techniques from services like Upstart or Gofundme.

During my mentorship, I often felt that my mentee was misinformed about the industry. One day, she and her partner were exuberantly looking forward to her $120,000 starting annual salary. Shocked, I asked where she had gotten such an overestimated number. Apparently, this was a standard figure for front end web developers her career counselor had told her. These numbers are not unheard of. However, they are more typical of new grads with a few internship experiences and multiple offers from competitive companies, not someone with only 12 weeks of programming experience, entering the field for the first time. It tore me up inside to think that a student might go into debt for a program that does not deliver the results they’d hoped for.

On top of the overestimated salary, the bootcamp also misrepresented industry demand. As an iOS developer, I asked if my mentee had any interest in mobile development. Much to my surprise, her boot camp had claimed that mobile development was not in very high demand, and that it’s better to focus on web instead. Being a bootcamp that did not offer their own mobile program, I felt that they were wildly misinformed about the demand for mobile in the industry, which unfairly limited the choices my mentee had when deciding her path.

The Results.
After mentoring for 8 weeks, my then company started interviewing students at the bootcamp. Unfortunately, while some students had impressive personal projects, they knew very little when it came down to computer science fundamentals and had no practical experience working on larger projects. They were largely unfamiliar with stacks, queues, trees, and hash sets / maps. This lack of basic algorithms skills coupled with their hefty recruitment fee led my company to withdraw support from the bootcamp in order to focus on other candidates. I know from hearing stories from other students that many experienced similar rejections. This, to me, was a heartbreaking end to a journey that students thought would take them to success.

Phase 3: Buildschool

After this first mentorship experience, I decided that today’s concept of the bootcamp could be challenged even further. Buildschool’s focus is being accessible to everyone by offering our services free of charge. We focus on building real world contracting jobs to pay for the bills. This phase of our journey is just beginning, and we can’t wait to tell you more!

Post Author: Sophie Novati

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