Hacker School Month [2:]: Not a Boot-Camp, But…

I’ve been putting off writing a post on my third month at Hacker School for some time, because I really wanted to write about how I achieved my goal of working as a professional programmer as a result of my experience there.  Of course, I couldn’t do that until I actually found a job as a programmer, and honestly… for awhile there it was looking pretty bleak — at least to me.

Most of my time in the last month at Hacker was spent finishing the NAND to Tetris coursework, which ended up being a lot more time-consuming than originally anticipated, but still very worthwhile.  I gave a 5-minute presentation on the course on the last day, which I think went over pretty well.  Other than that, aside from a little bit of fine-tuning on our Risk AI, the rest of my time in the last two weeks was spent building up my online presence (i.e. profiles viewable my prospective employers, such as those on Hacker School and LinkedIn) and applying to the companies that work with Hacker School.  It was exciting at first; meeting all these representatives from all of these great tech companies at the job fair and wondering, “where am I going to end up?!”  But as Hacker School ended, I ended up with only one interview from a Hacker School company, and they didn’t take long in letting me know that they were looking for someone with more experience.

For the next two months, I continued to put off writing this post as I searched for work and applied to any position for which I thought I might possibly qualify, as long as it fit one criterion: I had to be able to develop as a programmer.  It was not always easy to set aside the advice of my mother and sister to take a non-programming position as long as it provided for my family; we’re newlyweds, and we do need income, and it’s not fair to my wife to have to scrape by on only her income while I sat at home.  And when it seemed like I’d exhausted my options for application, I continued to work on independent programming projects — either Project Euler problems or a silly but fun little project I’ve been working on with a friend of mine which has been inadvertently developing my skills with SQL and web-frameworks.

One might reason, at this point, that perhaps Hacker School had failed me in my goal.

To that I have a few things to say:

1) Hacker School is Not a Boot-Camp

There’s been some minor bristling lately about folks referring to Hacker School as a “boot camp.”  It’s an understandable mistake; there are a lot of programming boot-camps out there these days.  These are places where people pay some admission, take the prescribed crash-coursework they need to be able to get a job as a programmer, and sometimes are even guaranteed to get a position.   They operate on the same business model as a traditional private school.  Hacker School is a bit anomalous, and it’s also something of a misnomer.  It is not a “school” in the traditional sense.  There is no required coursework, there are no required classes, and there are no degrees or certifications.  There is also no tuition.  It is like a school, though, in that you learn a heck of a lot.  And perhaps more importantly, it’s like a school (or, rather, what a good school should be) in that it provides the sort of teachers and colleagues which will genuinely care about and shape your future.

2) Student Employability is Not the Goal of Hacker School

It is how they fund its operation, but in all honesty, if Hacker School only took students they thought could get a job through their associated companies by the end of the program… I would never have been accepted.  Of course, since the big common factor in all Hacker Schoolers is love of programming, being employable at some point is a fair assumption.

But when finally, after searching fruitlessly for over two months, I suddenly found myself with two offers for jobs as a software developer simultaneously, Hacker School was immediately eager to jump to my aid, with one facilitator giving me a reference, several students giving me valuable input, and one of the founders even calling me to give me advice on how to choose which company and how to best negotiate.  And neither of the companies work with Hacker School.  In other words, Hacker School had no motivation to help me other than the fact that I am a part of their community, and they (both the facilitators and my colleagues) have an investment in my future, no matter what the gain is to them.

And that’s really what it seems to me Hacker School is at the heart of it all: a community.  It is a select community, but the criteria for membership has little to do with experience and nothing to do with monetary value/potential.  Even after my batch has ended, I continue to meet with Hacker School alumns both at School events and independently, learning and getting support from them.  And even though it’s not a boot camp, I am able to credit that community with getting me to the place where I went from virtually no experience to gainfully employed doing what I love in a matter of months.

And as the company where I will be working grows, rest assured that I will be recommending Hacker School as a recruiting pool.

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