Am I Bitter About My Coding Bootcamp Experience?

before and after

And more specifically, Coding Dojo?

A reader messaged me last night stating how it seems my time at Coding Dojo wasn’t too ideal since I have yet to land a permanent, full-time DEV job.  And that I don’t seem bitter about it or expressed any regrets.  His main question … Why not?

That question hit me in a weird way, and made me stop and do some introspection.  It wasn’t something I could answer in a quick reply to an email, it deserved a deeper explanation, and I have a feeling others might possibly be wondering the same thing, so here I am.

The timing of it couldn’t be more perfect, since today is my birthday.  And on this day I turn the big 4-0.  Should I be bitter?  Maybe. Probably? Let’s take a quick snapshot.  Behind this computer screen, in front of my covered up camera, sits a 40 year old unemployed father and husband.  Let me tell you, writing that last bit out and seeing it hurts, and not just for myself, but for those who depend on me, and that’s what cuts deepest.  Even so, I’m not bitter towards Coding Dojo.  Besides, things could always be worse. #notDead!

But why not? That’s the real question.  Let’s talk about Coding Dojo first.  Yes, they advertise things like 94% job placement rate and $76k+ starting salary, but what do those numbers even mean? Where do they come from?  I never for one second put any stock in those numbers.  Just like I don’t believe all those weight loss pills that show a person going from Chris Farley to The Rock in 12 weeks. I mean $76k AVERAGE! I realize most of their locations are on the west coast where cost of living is insane, so that probably is a legit number in the land where you can make a 6 figure salary, and still barely be able to afford a small apartment with 5 roommates.  But Dallas? Not a chance, not even close.  Majority entry level positions I see around this area start around $55-60k.  Not to say $76k isn’t possible, I know at least 2 people who graduated Coding Dojo and started out right at that number here in Dallas (one of whom I actually helped teach!).

I never cared about those numbers.  Don’t forget, I’m 40! I’ve had a lot of experience with programs touting all sorts of numbers, I mean hey, who hasn’t at least tried one … or two … of those too good to be true get rich quick schemes or some magic pill!

What I did care about was what Coding Dojo offered, not the numbers, but the actual product they sell…education.  Because one of the reasons I got into this field is because you can make it based on what you can do.  I didn’t expect Coding Dojo to make the projects for me that would land me that dream job, but I did expect Coding Dojo to help teach me the skills I need to build those projects myself.  And in this regard they met or exceeded all expectations.

They really do have, in my humble opinion, one of the best curriculums for new coders out there.  So I can definitively answer one part of the original question right now.  I positively, absolutely, have ZERO regrets about going to Coding Dojo.  There’s no way I could have learned what I did in the amount of time I did had I not gone. I truly believe I’m at least 1 years worth of experience further along right now than I would have been without that education.

Now, do I have things I could be bitter about? Absolutely.  I mean the career services were pretty much nonexistent when I graduated over a year ago.  Although technically, I did actually fall into their job placement rate, since 2 and a half months after graduating I was hired on at Coding Dojo as an Apprentice Bootcamp Leader (ABL).  And yes, that was a full-time with benefits position, although it fell FAR short of that $76k!

If there were any bitterness, this would be it.  I thought I was doing great, I was supposed to move up the chain and become a full instructor, and I was getting awesome feedback from the students.  But then Seattle happened, and the people at the top made a bunch of cuts, letting me finish out what was originally a 6 month deal anyway in March.  Although I didn’t go down quietly!  Thanks to my last cohort who all fought for me and even sent personal messages to the CEO/Founder trying to convince him to keep me on.

I haven’t admitted this before, but yeah, I do feel slightly burnt by that one.  But not bitter.

So why not?  Let’s finally answer that one.  Because this is MY life.  I make my own decisions and I’m where I am today because of the choices I’ve made.  I can’t control everything that happens to me, but I can control what I do, and how I respond to those things.  I could make all sorts of excuses, or blame others, but in the end, I’m responsible for myself.  My successes are my own, as well as my failures.  Coding Dojo never promised me anything, nor did they ever say it was going to be easy.

Even in regards to when I was let go as an ABL.  Yes, the students fought for me, yes I was getting great feedback, yes I was told there was a place for me to move up.  But in the end, I was essentially laid off because I failed myself.  I didn’t make myself invaluable enough to keep me off the chopping blocks.

It’s something I’ve always done in every other job I’ve worked.   I never worried about layoffs, because I excelled at what I did to the point that letting me go would never be an option.  It’s why every place I’ve worked, they’ve fought for me not to leave.  It’s why some still contact me about going back.  And unfortunately, I didn’t do enough to get to that point with Coding Dojo, and that’s on me.

That wasn’t technically a dev job though, but still, it gave me way more experience than I had when I graduated.  It’s been 5 months since then.  Still no full-time job.  Still not bitter.  I don’t have the right to be bitter, I didn’t exactly pave an easy road for myself.

When I decided to get into coding, and more specifically, attend Coding Dojo, I knew I had a tough road ahead.  I’m older, I don’t have a college degree, I have responsibilities, I had no experience, and I knew there was a stigma about coding bootcamps.

We can have the whole college degree debate all day long, but the fact is, it’s my fault I don’t have one.  And it’s definitely hurt me.  Its been coming up more often and whether its right or not, has instantly taken me out of the running on several positions.  You see, I did actually attend Central Michigan University, and I was lucky.  I had a father that worked hard his entire life and made sure I would be taken care of, and that I never had to worry about how to cover tuition.  But I was stupid.  I took my situation for granted and did more partying than studying.

I tried to fix it, but my GPA was so low after the first semester that even though I finally started to apply myself the second, it wasn’t enough to bring up my GPA high enough to avoid academic suspension. My fault. I did however take things more seriously, after which I made it onto the Dean’s List at my local community college, reapplied to CMU and was accepted back in …. and then didn’t go back.  Instead I ended up joining the Air Force.

That was probably one of the best things I ever did, but even while there I made one very crucial stupid mistake, I opted out of the GI Bill.  Why? Because I was young and dumb and thought I was going to take over the world.  I had all sorts of ideas for what I was going to do after the military and they all ended up with me making so much money I wouldn’t need to go back to school.

I handicapped myself.  Added another obstacle for myself to face, as if I didn’t have enough already.  During my search this year, I’ve blanked out during a tech interview, blew a coding challenge, got overconfident, but most importantly, I haven’t put in as much time as I need to.  Job searching is a full-time job in itself.  Add in that I also need to keep studying, keep fresh, work on projects, build my portfolio up, and it’s more like having 2 full-time jobs.

That’s all much easier to do when you’re single, and I’m not.  I still won’t use that as an excuse though.  I’ve known too many people with less time than me make it happen.  Looking back I can see all sorts of ways I wasted time, and I’m not talking about time I spent with my family, because what’s the point of all of this if you can’t spend time with those who matter most.

To sum it all up, No, I’m not bitter nor do I have any regrets.  I’m the one responsible for being an unemployed 40 year old, not Coding Dojo.  I’m the reason I don’t have a degree, not Coding Dojo.  And one other thing I haven’t mentioned, I LOVE CODING!  I didn’t get into this because of some  salary number touted by a coding bootcamp, I didn’t expect this to be a get-rich quick scheme.  I started playing around in code when I was looking for what to do with my life at the age of 38 and fell in love with it. So if there’s any regret at all, it’s that I didn’t start coding back in the 90’s.


Hold on, back it up …. I lied, I am bitter about something. I’m bitter about The Last F-in Ninja!  This #$%@! game and the Tandy SL1000 are what made me shun computers for well over a decade!  One day I’ll find these on eBay and get my revenge….

last ninja game
Go ahead, stand there all smug with your crappy little sword…I’ll find you one day and will pwn you!

Author: Chris Ulanowicz

Full-stack web developer made in Detroit currently living in the DFW area. Always trying to learn as much as I can about everything I can, especially new technologies and programming languages. When I have time I'm into gaming, comic books, ice hockey, drag racing, and spending time with my family of course.

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