This is the end of an era. I feel compelled to follow up my Two Year Retrospective with a more thorough, if sentimental and distant recounting of my relationship with Dev Bootcamp
I remember the exact moment I decided I was going to learn to code. One day I was screwing off at my desk while working in nonprofit administration, busy hating my job and my life. I saw CGPGrey tweet out resources for adults to learn how to code. Years before, in college, I almost took a CS 101 course. But my then boyfriend majored in CS and constantly complained about how hard the homework was. And Illinois winters were cold and the CS building was far away. So I stuck with my Political Science and Music double majors. This proved to be less prudent once I decided not to go to law school.
Learning on my own was fine, but slower than I would have liked, so I started looking into options. I was starting from basically zero knowledge. I did a little bit of HTML back in 1999, after my mom bought me an HTML for girls book. When she went to grad school in 2001 she tried to teach me a bit of CSS. It seemed like a hassle to me, so I let my computer education languish for over a decade. Now, after college, I had to look up everything from scratch. I needed to learn everything from accessing the command line to learning how to set up a dev environment.
There were a lot of sketchy looking in person and remote programs for learning Ruby on Rails. There was also an all women bootcamp available, which appealed to me, but it was only in San Fransisco, which appealed less.
I don’t remember the specific rabbit hole I went down to finally land on Dev Bootcamp. But there were enough testimonials from alumni and sources to suggest that it was the First Real Bootcamp that I decided to uproot my life in Denver and move to Chicago to give it a shot.
Dev Bootcamp was, in a lot of ways, my court of last resort. I had no substantial plans for what I would do with my life if this lark didn’t pan out. About a week before my interview with Dev Bootcamp, United Way offered to extend my contract. I turned them down on the off chance that I might make it in.
Back in those days the application process was complicated. Not only did you have to fill out several essay questions about your passion, dedication, and ability to learn on the fly, you had to upload a 5 minute video teaching viewers something they probably didn’t know. It could be about anything. I talked about how the United States Supreme Court doctrine of standing eliminates the legal possibility of suing God. It was silly but I guessed it was just quirky enough to work. I guessed right.
This is all my roundabout way of saying that Dev Bootcamp changed my life. It’s not an exaggeration, and it’s not easy to talk publicly about how inexperienced I was before I applied. But it was a successful program in that it catapulted thousands of grads into new careers. We’ve since been able to prove our mettle for over a year on the job. Or two. Or more.
DBC is the reason code schools are called "bootcamps." First cohort graduated in SF in 2012 – eons ago in internet time. End of an era.
— Sarah Mei (@sarahmei) July 13, 2017
I can’t speak to that because by virtue of being a Bootcamp graduate I don’t know what the industry was like before. I have never had to exist in the tech world without Dev Bootcamp having my back. I’ve never had to deal with the indignities that befall women in tech without a strong network of amazing, accomplished women to turn to.
Chicago has Dev Bootcamp to thank for the local chapter of PyLadies, and a large chunk of its RailsBridge, DjangoGirls, and Girl Develop It organizers. Women from Dev Bootcamp have gone on to speak at conferences around the world, sit on the board of directors for the Python Software Foundation, and found their own companies. Not only did I have women as role models starting day one, I had accessible mentors and friends that made my career transition possible.
It’s a cliche in the Dev Bootcamp community to say this, but DBC was a code school that taught more than code (although of course it did that too). It was both a last ditch effort and a new beginning for many of the people who attended. Some people thrived. Others merely skated through for the credentials. A few struggled to get on their feet after graduation. It’s like any other educational institution in that respect. But even many graduates who have not yet landed their careers are still involved in the alumni community, rabble rousing about Codes of Conduct, emacs vs vim, or who to blame for their (and now Dev Bootcamp’s) ultimate failure in the industry.
There were, of course, failures. I wouldn’t be writing this post if Dev Bootcamp’s model had proven both effective and profitable. The tension between maintaining the culture and creating sustainable business margins had been an undercurrent in the community for a while. It’s easy to find fault and nitpick the small details when you assume that an institution will be around to support you indefinitely.
Now I see some of those battles as the red flags they were. The Dev Bootcamp staff have always gone to great lengths to support their students, often to the detriment of their social lives and mental health. The program’s price point simply did not keep pace with industry demands in a way that could support the love and care that went into it. It’s become clear, looking back, that the influx of corporate capital was the only thing keeping afloat what was ultimately a benevolent but unsustainable model.
There is also the problem of marketing. The bootcamp model is a difficult proposition to explain and to sell. The idea was always to take complete beginners and prepare them for day one of an entry level web development position. No more. No less. But backlash from the development community revealed a resentment from a subset of more traditionally educated programmers. It seemed brazen that young upstarts could come in, make six figures, and be worth the same as an experienced developer. That is not and has never been the claim coming from reputable bootcamps. But once the narrative was out there, it proved difficult to combat, leaving some bootcamp graduates with a stigma that could be difficult to shake, even after a couple years of experience working in the field.
This problem was compounded by the instances of fake bootcamps that sought to capitalize on Dev Bootcamp’s legacy. Spectacular, rare failures are a much more compelling story than modest but profound successes. I’m not sure that the bootcamp space has fully recovered from the stain that those scams left behind.
I feel so lucky to have been able to participate in Dev Bootcamp’s grand vision. The community provided me not only with professional connections, but lifelong friendships that I would be lost without. I have personally provided emotional and financial support for friends and family going through the program. I trusted the process and the results that I witnessed. When Dev Bootcamp closes its doors in December 2017 it will leave behind a hole both in my life and in the Chicago development community.
One of the most striking things about the announcement was the immediate and passionate response from the alumni community. Many of us, myself included, have only sporadically stayed engaged with the alumni network, assuming it would continue to grow and provide new opportunities for careers, mentorship, and general camaraderie. The news exploded in our alumni slack. The prevailing question (among the sadness and the natural but misguided attempt to point fingers) was how do we pay forward the experience we all cherished? We are now all shiny Pokemon. Limited edition. Special for our rarity, but not unique in our abilities. We are ordinary people who do beautiful and meaningful things thanks to the support of a community we never knew we needed.
As many many people in our slack said, “It’s the best thing I never want to do again.”
We’re still trying to figure out how Dev Bootcamp’s legacy will manifest, but I have no doubt that it will. In the last five years Dev Bootcamp has produced some of the most accomplished, dedicated, and empathetic professionals and community organizers that I have ever had the privilege to work with. The outpouring of love and grief in the last two days proves what I have always known about our community; we are a disjoined, weird, amazing family that will keep learning, supporting one another, and creating a better industry for career changers of all stripes.
If Dev Bootcamp ever taught me anything, it’s that failure isn’t final. It’s a process. This isn’t the end for any of the wonderful students or staff who passed through. It’s an integral part of our collective story that we will use to inform our future successes. And failures. And everything in between.
I want to close out with a video I always watch when I’m afraid of what’s to come. There’s a beautiful sorrow in watching what you loved come to an end. But it means that there’s something new in store for each of us. I know that Dev Bootcamp gave us the tools, the friends, the integrity, and the fire to meet our future head on.
Let me realize that my past failures at follow-through are no indication of my future performance. They’re just healthy little fires that are going to warm up my ass.