Penn LPS’s First Class of Coding Boot Camp Grads Thrive in Philly

She worked a day job in fundraising. He picked up night shifts as a grave digger. Despite their very different lines of work, Nora Granahan and Michael McVeigh had one goal in common: they both wanted to learn to code—and hoped to eventually make a career change of it.

Of course, switching careers is never easy. Like jumping from one moving train to another, everything has to be just right to pull it off. For Nora, she found that her self-study efforts weren’t getting her up to speed fast enough to make the leap. “I’d been learning to code on my own for awhile, and was looking for a way to accelerate my learning,” she said.

Michael faced a similar predicament. “When you’re teaching yourself the basics,” he says, “you’re unsure if you can get to the level on your own where you’ll be employable,” he said.

A faster path forward

That’s when they each discovered the Penn LPS Coding Boot Camp.

The boot camp is a rigorous 24-week program, where students meet three times a week to dive headfirst into the world of web development. From learning JavaScript, jQuery, React, and Node coding languages, to building apps and presenting projects, it’s a tremendous quantity and range of content to cover in such a short period of time.

But such intensity is necessary to deliver on the program’s promise: that participants will be transformed into employable developers over the course of the six-month experience—even if they start with zero coding experience.  

As for Nora and Michael, neither could be 100% sure the camp would get them where they wanted to go—but they took the leap and enrolled in the program anyway.

Facing down challenges

The compressed nature of coding boot camps has a way of forcing each student to square off with whatever experiences, circumstances, or doubts have held them back—and power through them.

Michael struggled with the particular collaboration methods unique to coding. “Software development is an entirely different type of collaborative process,” he said. “While this was challenging, I did eventually develop the skills for collaborating effectively while developing software, and this is one of the key reasons I signed up for the course: experience working on a team.”

Nora, like many boot camp students, continued working at her job during the program. It was hard for her to find enough hours in the day to keep up. “The most challenging aspect for me was the time commitment,” she said. “Learning all of this new material takes time and practice and it’s a lot on top of a full-time work schedule.

Difficult by design

The idea is that the rigor will pay off—in the form of better alignment between skilled laborers and local employer needs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, web development is one of the fastest growing careers in today’s economy—with a projected 27% growth rate by 2024.

“What we’re ultimately trying to do is map the needs of employers in a region,” Trilogy founder and CEO Dan Sommer told The Philadelphia Inquirer. ”

Just because there’s a surplus of jobs, however, doesn’t make them any easier to come by.

“There is no substitute for hard work,” said Michael. “While the bootcamp offers you a ton of resources for learning how to code and making yourself a competitive job candidate, simply showing up to class and the career webinars will not prepare you to be a developer. The bootcamp should not be thought of as a substitute for teaching yourself or for hard work.”

The big payoff

In the end, the hard work paid off for both Michael and Nora. They were among the 45 students in the Penn LPS Coding Boot Camp’s inaugural graduating class this month. Both quickly landed jobs and landed on a new career path, just like they’d hoped.

“Finding a job as a developer, at a company that I love, has definitely been the biggest life change so far,” said Nora. Added Michael, “I don’t know what would have happened had I continued on my own. I do know that this course gave me the confidence in my coding ability that I needed.”

It’s not easy. It’s not for everyone. But for the right person, a coding boot camp like the one at UPenn is just what some people need. Take it from Michael:

“If this is something you really you want and are willing to work extremely hard to achieve it, then go for it! It will be hard—it’s a boot camp after all—but it will be worth it.”

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