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What I learned at a 4-week Nucamp coding boot camp

Would a four-week web development coding boot camp designed by a Microsoft veteran provide me with enough skills to land a job? I was going to find out.

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I recently signed up for a four-week coding boot camp to bolster my coding skills. The course isn't intended to fully prepare a noncoder to enter the software development job market, especially in a cooling economy. Still, I wondered if it would give me enough skills to land a job.

Nucamp's Web Development Fundamentals course introduces noncoders to HTML, CSS and JavaScript. While it is beneficial to have some coding background, the only prerequisite is knowing how to use a computer, according to Nucamp, a company that was founded by an ex-Microsoft educator and developer.

Those were boxes I could check: In addition to solid computer skills, I have a mathematics degree and experience with analytical programming languages such as R, an open source predictive analytics language. But even if I pass the class, the recent downturn in the software developer job market means that I'll face an uphill struggle if I want to get hired as a developer, said Madison Roth, vice president at Glocomms, a tech recruiting agency headquartered in London.

"Given the current climate, a four-week web development boot camp will not be sufficient to land a role with a big tech company," Roth said. "These companies are typically looking for both years of experience and degrees from a top-level university."

The Web Fundamentals course isn't necessarily designed to prepare people to get a job, but as an introduction and a way to prime you to continue your education, according to Ludo Fourrage, founder and CEO at Nucamp, who added that there might be small companies that will consider candidates with four-week boot camp certificates.

The number of weeks or months or years of [schooling] that anyone has doesn't get in the way of being successful as a developer.
Ryan J. SalvaVice president of product, GitHub

One such company is GitHub, a San Francisco-based internet hosting service and Microsoft subsidiary. Ryan J. Salva, vice president of product at GitHub, majored in philosophy and English and is a self-taught software engineer. He said he would hire boot camp graduates.

"The number of weeks or months or years of [schooling] that anyone has doesn't get in the way of being successful as a developer," Salva said.

One thing that won't factor into hiring decisions: my age, protected from employer discrimination under a law enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"If you are able to succeed in an interview, age will not affect any hiring decisions," Roth said.

A demanding course

Fourrage founded Nucamp in 2017 after leading digital learning platforms at Microsoft for 18 years. He experienced firsthand the lack of geographical diversity in software development and thought coding boot camps could provide opportunities for people who live in rural areas.

Nucamp's Web Development Fundamentals course packs a lot into a four-week time frame: HTML informs a browser about content such as written text; CSS styles an HTML document with effects such as fonts, colors and spacing; and JavaScript creates and controls more complex features such as dynamic content updating, image animation and form submissions. Lulled into a false sense of security with some competent HTML skills, I thought I would be learning to create buttons with JavaScript, add a video control or perform some other simple tasks with a few lines of code. I was wrong.

Before I could put into play JavaScript building blocks, such as variables, arrays and loops, I first had to learn the jargon. And if Python is the English of programming languages, then JavaScript is the Uralic -- completely different from anything I had encountered before.

Code sample screenshot from Nucamp coding boot camp.
The 'double not' operator was a challenge to conquer in JavaScript.

For example, a truthy in JavaScript is a value that is true in a Boolean context. I encountered such truthiness -- or falsiness -- when I dealt with logical operators such as the logical "double not," written as !!, which is roughly akin to a double double negative in the English language; it's like a Magic 8 Ball giving you a "Signs point to yes" when it actually meant, well, "Signs point to yes." Multiply that brain bender by 2,000, and that's approximately how much my head hurt by week three.

In addition to JavaScript's idiosyncrasies, the time commitment was another shocker. The marketing blurb hinted at two to four hours a day, but despite my coding background, I tended toward the four-hour mark. This meant 20-plus hours of coding in addition to a full-time job.

"I can't stress it enough -- repetition, repetition, repetition," said Kevin Gay, my course instructor, a full-stack engineer at Apollidon Learning, an education marketing firm based in Tampa, Fla. Gay has taught a dozen Nucamp courses since 2020.

But repetition takes time -- something I was short on. During the last week of class, I juggled a houseful of out-of-town relatives for Thanksgiving, a camping trip, a bout of vertigo and two attention-starved border collies who decided to make their own entertainment -- generally involving shoe dissections -- while their mom attempted to type away at the keyboard. Instacart, Uber Eats and a local laundry service became hot keys on my phone; I didn't pick up a vacuum or duster in a month; emails went unanswered and voicemails unheard.

In essence, life happened, which is one of the main reasons that students quit, Gay said.

Nine out of 18 students in my cohort disappeared off the radar before the final workshop. Of those nine, five students signed up for a later course, and four dropped out entirely.

"Some will drop out because they're like, 'Oh my God, that's really not for me,'" Fourrage said. "Sometimes it's going to be, people don't realize that they have to attend a Saturday workshop. And so they go, 'Oh my God, I can't really do it this Saturday' or 'I just didn't get it.'"

JavaScript is hard, which means that to understand it, students must take their time through the learning process, Gay said.

Fourrage agreed that time investment is the key because programming is not something that is immediately internalized. The course might leave students feeling overwhelmed because they're not entirely sure if they understand what they learned.

"What we're teaching you is the type of knowledge that you really internalize as you practice," Fourrage said.

Gay agreed that practice is the key. "You will mess up -- a lot," he said. "But if you continue to push through and don't quit, some amazing things will begin to happen."

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