So You've Graduated Bootcamp. Now What?
First off: congratulations! Bootcamps are hard. They’re long days full of an onslaught of new information, challenging projects, and slogging through pages and pages of error logs and Stack Overflow. They’re late nights. They don’t have breaks built in.
No matter what anyone says, they’re not easy.
Take a second to think about what you’ve done: in just 12 or 16 or 18 weeks, you’ve prepared yourself for a full career pivot. That’s pretty neat! Some people go to school for four years and pay upwards of a quarter million dollars to accomplish as much—but not you. You should be proud of that
Now: reality check. A bootcamp, in the most literal sense of the word, is a short, intense training regime for new military recruits. It’s designed to break them in, to toughen them up, to weed out the weak. Even in that context, bootcamp graduates don’t go on to immediately become officers or commanders. Oftentimes, they don’t even go right to the field. Instead, they go on to more training, or to another base for a more rigorous regimen. All this to say: you probably won’t graduate from your bootcamp and immediately be fielding job offers from Google, Facebook, and Amazon.
In fact, most bootcamp grads aren’t going to be immediately fielding any job offers at all. To the contrary, many are going to feel completely lost: suddenly, all of the 15 hour days of burning the midnight oil, trying to crank out projects fall right off of their calendars, and they’re left only with long, open weeks and a vague mandate to find a job.
Does this describe you? Maybe the first few resumes you sent out disappeared into the ether. Or maybe you were lucky enough to get a bite, but you bombed your first phone interview. Maybe imposter syndrome might be setting in. What do you do now?
Well, after reviewing hundreds of bootcamp resumes, interviewing dozens of bootcamp grads, and talking to dozens more, there is one things that I’ve found holds true: this is a numbers game. You will likely apply to many jobs before receiving your first offer. But it will come eventually—if you’re smart. Don’t despair. Instead, do these few things to greatly improve your lot.
1. Work your network.
You know lots of engineers. You know lots of people at tech companies. You know your bootcamp teachers and previous alums from your program. You kind of know that guy from high school who you haven’t talked to in eight and a half years. These are all assets.
Reaching out to these people is hard. Saying, “hey, I just did this bootcamp and I’m looking for a job” is tough. But I cannot reiterate enough: this is the single most important thing you can do to improve your job hunt. As a recent bootcamp grad, your resume is almost completely undifferentiated—it’s going to have a very tough time getting through a screening process anywhere. If you want to work at a great company, you’ll need an edge to get your resume seen. So either spend another two years working on open source projects, or work that network.
Consider this: most tech companies offer their employees a referral bonus if they successfully refer a new hire. If I were to guess, I’d say the average bonus is around $2,000. Top companies pay upwards of $5,000.
Now, consider this: if someone I know is interested in working at my company and doesn’t reach out to me, for whatever reason, their resume will find its way to the bottom of a tall pile—if it doesn’t get programmatically filtered out without a human eye ever seeing it. Worse, I’ll be out a chance to earn a fat $5,000 bonus. That’s a serious lose-lose.
Finally, remember this: referrals are a starting point, not an ending point. A referral usually guarantees your resume will be looked at. It will not result in you landing a job you’re not qualified for. This is both good and bad: good, because it means asking your not-so-close friends for a referral isn’t really asking for such a large favor after all (so do it!), and bad, because it means you still need to jump through a few more hoops.
2. Let your work speak for itself
If you attended a decent bootcamp, you probably completed at least three or four projects. Nine times out of ten, these are the most impressive things you have working for you.
Don’t spend hours obsessing over your cover letter or your resume: no matter how polished they are, they probably won’t compare favorably against those from experienced engineers or college grads. It won’t matter if they’re typo-free, if you got a 4.0 studying International Relations at Berkeley, or if you speak French. None of those things tell a potential employer you’re good enough at what you do to get the job.
Instead, when you start talking to someone at a company you’re interested in, send a link to your best projects, and include another link to the source code. Don’t send one without the other. Don’t make your recruiter track down an engineer to figure out how to build and serve your source files. Make it easy: send a link to your hosted project, send a link to your github.
Only send a resume when they ask for one—until then, it may be more of a liability than an asset.
3. Make sure your work is sending the right message
When you do get asked for your resume, you’re going to send one over that’s clean, easy to read, and free of any typos or grammatical mistakes. This seems obvious.
But if your project work is more important than your resume, why would you ever leave uncorrected warnings, uncaught errors, or unvalidated inputs? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, your projects are the most impressive things you have. If they’re not impressive, you’re sunk.
So take a day off, go through all of your projects, and tidy up your source code. Run a strict linter on everything and make sure that there aren’t any console warnings, errors, or log statements. Make sure your commit messages are all descriptive and valuable (protip: if they’re not, run a `git rebase -i` to clean them up). Make sure you handle edge cases and small screens and big screens and slow networks gracefully. This stuff matters. Professional engineers will notice the difference between a project done well and a project done hastily.
4. Be sure you know the fundamentals
This is more important once you start getting bites, but you don’t want to be caught in a situation where you’re trying to learn the basics the night before your big interview. Bootcamps are great for teaching students how to build things quickly and impressively, but often neglect some of the finer details of development. All too often, bootcamp grads are adept at using a particular framework, but are unable to build things from scratch—and then, when they end up interviewing at companies that don’t use their framework, they become horribly lost.
A good rule of thumb: if you regularly use a framework (React, Ember, Angular) or libraries (Underscore, jQuery, Redux), use them because they’re convenient—not because they enable you to do something you couldn’t do otherwise. Think hard about the functionality your framework provides. Think of the individual methods and APIs. How would you write those with vanilla JS? How would you write flask with plain old python? How would you write Rails with Ruby?
These aren’t trivial questions, but they’re not that tricky either. If you can’t figure out how to implement the functionality that your framework gives you, you should consider taking some time to review the basics. This is one of the biggest differences between bootcamp grads and college grads: the bootcamp grads have build bigger, but the college grads understand the nitty-gritty.
5. Be prepared
Interviewing is a skill. It takes practice. You should think of it the same way that you think of the GRE or SAT. Sure, you might not know every question that will come up. But by spending even a little bit of time preparing, you’re able to drastically improve your chances of success. Consider reading Gayle Laakman’s Cracking The Coding Interview and doing a few problems on HackerRank or CoderPad—these will make a big difference.
Finally, be sure you understand the following topics well enough to explain them:
- Tree traversal (BFS, DFS)
- At least one nlogn sorting algorithm
- Array processing (reversing, filtering, updating in place)
- String manipulation
- Defining classes & object oriented programming
Regardless of whether or not these will be used in your day-to-day, they’re some of the most commonly-used litmus tests by engineering companies. For better or for worse, these topics will come up again and again in interviews. Learn them, learn them well, and practice them.
If you do the five things listed above, you’re going to set yourself up for the greatest chance of success. But remember: even then, this is a numbers game. You’re going to apply to a lot of companies, and you’re going to be rejected from a lot of companies. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad candidate or that you should stop applying! It just means you have to buckle down, brush up your algorithms, and redouble your efforts. You will get a job eventually. The industry needs you. The need for programmers now is greater than it has ever been before. But that job won't come easily, or quickly. You'll have to persevere.