Why I’m attending Fullstack Academy

Since discovering a love for guitar and composition in my teens, I decided to pursue a career as a freelance music teacher, composer, recording engineer, and performing guitarist. After a decade of this, I realized that the rockstar dream didn’t suit me and I was tired of chasing it. I’d be happier with a more stable career that challenged me intellectually. I’ve always enjoyed working with technology, so the field of programming piqued my interest.

My girlfriend encouraged me to start teaching myself the basics of programming to see if I would like it. After a short amount of time doing so, I was surprised to find that I was completely hooked on it (more details to follow). I wanted to make this new career a reality as soon as possible. I began looking into formally studying computer science, coding bootcamps, and other DIY options.

Bootcamps: The Cons

There are many coding bootcamp detractors. They claim:

  • “Bootcamps are expensive scams designed to take advantage of people who want to change careers.”
  • “You can’t possibly learn enough to be job ready in 3 months nor can they guarantee you a job.”
  • “The economy is already oversaturated with bootcamp graduates. Employers are only looking for experienced developers and those who have degrees.”

Naturally, with all this bad press, I cringed a little when friends and family brought up the prospect of joining one. Besides, I was learning well on my own and having a great time doing it.

Bootcamps: The Pros

I changed my mind after realizing that I wasn’t learning as fast as I’d like. I wanted an excuse to quit my part-time teaching job and learn to code full-time (and I was fortunate enough to have the means to do so). After some research, I concluded that only the top bootcamps were even worth applying to. It was a good thing that I already knew that I liked coding and was at an intermediate level. I applied to both Fullstack Academy and Hack Reactor after doing all the prep work they provided. I was thrilled when I found out I was accepted into both programs for about equal price. I decided against Hack Reactor - it was going to be remote since they don’t have a program in Chicago. Besides being local, I was attracted to Fullstack’s program for many reasons:

  • I met Ben Neiswander at the Tech Jobs Fair in the 1871 space. He told me about a music project built by some of the alumni that was really impressed me.
  • Fullstack co-founded CIRR, which provides validated reporting on bootcamps.
  • Ben led an info session and gave a lot of nice tidbits of advice about the difference between “good struggle” and “bad struggle”, a step-by-step procedure for interview problems, and more. I could tell he really knew his stuff and was passionate about the program.
  • The curriculum was exactly what I was looking for.
  • The interview was an amazing learning experience. I enjoyed worked with Colin who taught me how to optimize the problem we were working on in the interview.
  • The computer science / software engineering focus.
  • Interview preparation and career services that continue after the program has completed.

The list could go on, but in short, learning from industry professionals and getting career help would be worth it to me.

So far: 3 weeks in

I’ve learned so much advanced Javascript! Concepts I was fuzzy on (closures, call(), apply(), bind(), prototypes, recursion, testing, and more) have finally “clicked” (and we’re only in the part-time prep work phase.) I’m excited to start the full-time immersive part!

What else did I consider?

My other options included putting together my own program and obtaining a computer science degree. I looked at the Oregon State Online for Post-Bacc Students. This bachelors would realistically take 2 years and cost a minimum of $28,000. There’s also the Online Masters through the Georgia Institute of Technology. These might be good choices if I want the credentials later.

My final option was to continue learning on my own and put together a bootcamp-equivalent. Looking at all the services that a bootcamp provides separately, the cost of a bootcamp seems much more reasonable. Taking lessons from an independent developer could easily amount to the same expense. This developer may not necessarily be invested in my progress or be able to help with my career. I knew that I needed a little leap of faith: many Fullstack alumni claim they had “amazing experiences” and maybe I would benefit from the overall structure of the program.

Why do I want to change careers?

For a long time, I followed my passion and talents in music. I always admired people who lived solely for their art. I wanted to be a great, well-respected composer and studio guitarist. The reality for many professional musicians that it’s nowhere near lucrative unless you are dedicated to honing your business skills in addition to musical skills. In the meantime, before any “big break,” you are taking on gigs that might interest you very little. In my case, I’ve totally lost interest in playing covers for money, teaching musical fundamentals to half-hearted students, and writing music on others’ terms. Despite working very hard over the years, I’ve accumulated some debt. I plan to make programming a primary, full-time time career and want to play music for fun on the side. I intend to bring all of my talents and interests to software engineering.

My background in more detail

I am a 33 year old professional musician holding degrees in Recording Engineering, Composition, and Jazz Guitar from the Peabody Conservatory. Composing music that blends a number of styles is my musical passion. I’ve played guitar, bass, drums, and sang in thousands of performances with rock, pop, jazz, and classical ensembles. My most recent position was at a private middle/high school in Chicago where I taught web programming, music composition, and recording arts. My proudest achievements to date include releasing a solo album called “Creative Being” and starting a teaching program where students learn music and make an album in the process.

Since high school, I’ve built many simple websites, but I wanted to know more about programming “for real.” I’ve spent almost 12 months learning on my own and have enjoyed it immensely. I completed the “Introduction to Computer Science and Programming in Python” course offered through MIT OpenCourseWare. I realized how much I enjoyed creating useful programs, working with data structures, and refining code with abstraction to make it more maintainable. I’ve been continuously working to develop my programming skills by sharing what I learn with others and building websites, chrome extensions, and programs using Python, JavaScript, and the command-line.

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This blog post was written as a student of Fullstack Academy.