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This is a follow up blog post about online programming bootcamps that I have been through. I noticed that my previous post – Why Thinkful – was generating a lot of views, so I guess people are interested in this topic. That post had become quite outdated and in this post I will give my best opinions on the topic. I can give a unique perspective since I have gone through these programs myself. Please note that since these are online programs, the curriculum change all the time, so please evaluate accordingly. I do not get paid by any of these bootcamps. These are all just my thoughts and opinions after finishing the programs. The reviews are organized in the order that I took them.

Thinkful – Front End Web Development (FEWD)

I started my journey with Thinkful, Front End Web Development program. The cost was $300/mo and the suggested time is 3 months. You meet with the mentor once a week @ 45 minutes and there are 4 office hours per week. I finished the program in 2 months. You learn basic HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and jQuery (AJAX).

While I think the program is good, it is not sufficient if you are wanting to get a job as a Front End Developer. You may be able to get freelancing job doing minor website projects, but you will definitely not be qualified to get a Junior Software Engineering position – believe me, I tried, and I even had a Computer Science degree to support my job application. You most likely consider this option because you feel frustrated learning by yourself from Code School or Codecademy. You are also probably looking at Thinkful instead of Bloc because of the cost, which I understand completely – that’s why I started with Thinkful as well. However if you are serious about becoming a Front End Developer, you will need to learn more advance JavaScript framework such as Angular. So comparing the $5000 cost for Bloc with $900 for Thinkful’s FEWD course is not really a fair comparison. Thinkful’s FEWD is more of an introduction to Front End Web Development.

(Don’t think bad about Thinkful’s program..continue reading! There’s more information to come)

Thinkful – Ruby on Rails

After I finished the FEWD program, I enrolled in Thinkful’s Ruby course. The cost is $500/mo. I got to about half way through the course and I decided to cancel. I felt that the program does not provide me enough depth or proper understanding of the concepts that Rails provide. I felt that the projects were rather shallow; I was not comfortable with Ruby or Rails for that matter.

So I decided to go to Tealeaf Academy.

 

Tealeaf Academy

I enrolled in the first two courses of Tealeaf Academy. The first course focuses on learning Ruby. They make sure that you are proficient with the language. After going through this first course, Ruby quickly become my favorite programming language. Chris explained the concepts thoroughly and in-depth. At the end of the second course, we make a Blackjack app using Sinatra as the framework. One thing I strongly enjoyed was the explanation of routes. It is such an important concept that will help you immensely in the future (even if you become Front End Developer – Angular, for example, has their own router as well). Since Sinatra is a lightweight framework, we can focus on the programming concepts better.

The second course was when we dived into Rails. Again, they did a great job explaining all the concepts. I think the main difference between this course and other tutorials or Thinkful’s Ruby on Rails course is the fact that Tealeaf discourage the use the generators. The only time we use generators was to generate migration files. The others, we code everything ourselves so that we understand the ‘magic’ behind Rails. I think that was the biggest take away for me from the course, learning the magic behind rails and not relying on generators.

If you want to learn about Ruby on Rails, I strongly recommend Tealeaf Academy. The depth they go to is incredible and I learned a lot, but most importantly I understand the concepts really well.

 

Bloc – Front End Web Development

After Tealeaf, I finally caved and signed up for Bloc’s program. I know I want to learn Angular, and at the time, Thinkful’s Angular course had just opened up. I was not willing to be among the first cohorts, so I decided to go with Bloc. It was a painful monetary commitment, but I am glad I did it. The cost was $5000, and you have 3 meetings a week with your mentor @ 30 minutes. The first phase of the program, you create a clone of Rdio music player app. First you create the app and interaction with HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery. But then you refactored the entire app from jQuery to Angular and CSS to SASS (SCSS). This first project essentially become your introduction to angular concepts since you will have to play around with a lot of Angular’s components, such as custom Directives and Factories.

I would suggest to go through the first as fast as possible, because in my opinion, the second phase is where the most interesting things happened. The second phase is where you select 3 projecs to do. You discuss your projects with your mentor, and Bloc does not give you a set requirements for each of the projects – you define it yourself with your mentor. This is where I feel the 3 times meetings with your mentor definitely helped out a lot big time. My mentor was amazing, he is a tech lead in a startup in Silicon Valley, so he knows exactly what I needed to know to land a job after the course, and he made sure that I know those concepts.

My projects spans to figuring out Grunt, doing TDD with Jasmine, creating full stack applications with Firebase, and playing around with D3 (which eventually becomes one of the thing that made my job application stand out and got me a job!). My mentor guided me and explained the concepts whenever I got stuck. But the great thing with my mentor was when he explained and showed me Design Patterns. This is super helpful and important concept as you venture into Front End Development. I don’t think it is something you can just read and understand – you need to see it in action. My mentor and I did pair programming as he coded an Event Pipe as an Angular Service (Ever wondered how the ‘on’ function worked in jQuery or Node? Make sure you know how Event Pipe works and how to code it from scratch!). We also went through using Kris Kowall’s Q library (or $q for angular’s adaptation) to work with JavaScript Promises.

Then as I come closer to the end of my program, my mentor and I reviewed some of interviews questions that I may have, and he made sure that I have a deep understanding of Angular concepts and what is happening behind the scenes.

Thinkful vs Bloc

Now comes the big question: Thinkful or Bloc?

First and foremost, comparing Thinkful’s FEWD with Bloc FEWD course is not a fair comparison. Thinkful’s FEWD is for beginner and does not cover Angular at all. With that being said, Thinkful now offer courses in Angular and NodeJS. I was given access for review to Thinkful’s Angular course, and I have to say that their curriculum is great! I can’t speak to the quality of Thinkful’s Mentors for their Angular course since I did not have any meeting with a mentor.

The biggest difference between these two programs are whether you like a structured curriculum, where you read a certain concept and do some excercises on it, or if you would rather jump into the water and learn while doing projects. If you like more structure, Thinkful will be a good choice. The curriculum that they cover goes deeper than Bloc, since they go over Unit Testing with Jasmine/Karma, End-to-End Testing with Protractor, and also the $q library (JavaScript Promises). Bloc does not explicitly teach these concepts in their course, but of course you can go over them with your mentor during your phase 2 – which I did.

I think how they are calling their program explains a lot about their approach. Thinkful is a Mentorship program, where you learn on your own (with the curriculum they provide) and you ask your mentor if you need help. Unfortunately, I don’t think a once a week meeting is enough if you are serious about Front End Development. Bloc on the other hand is using an Apprenticeship model, where you mostly learn from your mentor instead of reading articles. I found that I like Bloc’s approach better, and I think I learn faster that way too. I personally don’t like reading a lot, so conversing with someone to learn about a concept is so much better for me. Bloc is better if you like to explore new things on your own with someone to guide you along the correct path. I had so many lightbulb moments when I was talking with my mentor from Bloc.

I can honestly say that I will not be able to get my new, sweet job at a Series A Startup without going through Bloc’s program and having guidance from my mentor!

Time Commitment

I was going through these programs while having a full time job. I spent about 2-3 hours every night during weekdays and about 5-6 hours on Sundays. This was sufficient when I went through Thinkful and Tealeaf Academy, however I do wished I spend more time while I was going through Bloc’s program. Unfortunately, it was during a busy time at work too, so I was not able to allocate more hours. If you decide to go through Bloc’s program, make sure you spend at least 25 hours/week (preferably more – much, much more) to get the most out of your mentor.

Shortcomings

With these bootcamps, I still feel something is missing if you are looking for a job. It is Computer Science concepts such as data structures and algorithms. At the time of this writing, both Thinkful and Bloc offer job prep phase after you complete their curriculum, but I can’t speak much to how effective they are. I went through the beginning of Bloc’s job prep program, but was soon offered a job, so I did not continue with the program.

Unfortunately, when you interview for a Front End Software Engineering job, most of the questions still revolved around data structures and algorithms. Very few interviews actually goes into actual Front End coding unfortunately. I will talk about this in more detail in a separate post.

I hope that this article will help you make decision to which online bootcamp you will choose! If you have any questions please comment below!

About to finish your bootcamp? Check my next article on what to do!

Update: In the comment section, you will see comments from Devschool. Please read this article for a cautionary tale:
http://www.inc.com/salvador-rodriguez/devschool-coding-bootcamps.html

 

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