Final Thoughts on General Assembly

I’ve been promising to write a wrap-up post about General Assembly and have continued to receive requests asking about what my experience was like and if I think it’s worth it. Now that it’s been almost 3 months since the program ended, I feel I can do a better job of wrapping it all up.

To start with, if you’re someone who hasn’t read my Bootcamp Application Journey post, I’ll reiterate the point that General Assembly was the very last on my list of preferred bootcamps. I went there because I didn’t get accepted into any of my top choices and couldn’t afford Hack Reactor (though I likely wouldn’t have been accepted to Hack Reactor either). Information was so scarce on General Assembly that I questioned whether I might be better off just staying home to study on my own rather than spend the money, but I figured that I’d at least have the benefit of having the instructors to help me get unstuck when needed or to provide guidance. What also ended up convincing me to attend was their apprenticeship program, which I figured was a good worst-case scenario that I’d have no problem getting into.

The conclusion that I came to at the end of the program was that it wasn’t worth $11,500; at least, not at the time that I took it. I’ve been envious of the current cohort at the SF General Assembly because it seems much more like what I was wanting out of my experience and the quality seems higher.

Why I didn’t think it was worth that amount

  • Lack of the same amenities that other bootcamps give you for the same price
    • No computer equipment to use
    • Uncomfortable chairs and classrooms
    • Lack of space (more on this below)
    • Lack of coffee half the time (I'm sorry, but this is oh so important and something I explicitly asked about before I agreed to attend)
    • Lack of a hiring day where you can interview with companies
      • At first I thought this was a benefit that General Assembly doesn't take recruiter fees for placing students with certain companies, but after seeing how effectively the other bootcamps were getting their students hired, I decided this was a downside.
  • They won’t tell you who the instructors are before you start, so you have no way of knowing what the quality of teaching is going to be like.
  • Way less time to learn than advertised
    • Consistently starting late
    • Consistently having long lunch hours
    • Consistently having breaks run long
  • It lacked structure. They had two different classrooms for our cohort where we were supposed to be generally learning the same thing at the same time, but that was often not the case. We’d compare notes and it was always so different, to the point that sometimes one class wouldn’t even get to the things the other class was learning. The lessons often seemed disorganized and frequently had errors.

  • Catering to those who aren’t paying attention in class. There would be students who would sit there in class watching Netflix or browsing Reddit while the instructor was talking, and then the student would suddenly look up and ask the instructor to explain something they had just finished explaining, and the instructor would comply. Sure, this type of thing happens in most schools, but this isn’t supposed to be most schools. It’s supposed to be an intensive bootcamp that you are paying a lot of money for to learn and I felt that my opportunities to learn kept being stolen from me.

  • No queue system for help until the end of the 5th week, so it was often hard to get assistance. Sure I can google things as well as the next person, but I wasn’t paying GA $11,500 to get assistance from the internet, which I could have done from home.

  • The student code of conduct was kind of a joke. The standards are not high, and they did not enforce any of it. Students could show up whenever they wanted, without penalty, and then the instructors would try to catch them up. They say you have to do all the pre-work before the first day of class, or else you won’t be able to start, but that wasn’t true at all. A lot of people said they didn’t do the pre-work and it showed because we had to spend the first couple weeks going over all the pre-work and teaching it to people who didn’t do it. I’m sorry, what did I waste those 50 hours doing the pre-work for when I could have just learned it in class?

  • Lack of space. We’d be kicked out of the classrooms at 5:30pm on the dot and there’d be no where else for us to do our homework at General Assembly. This frustrated a lot of my classmates because we wanted to get work done around our peers. General Assembly advertised that we would be able to work up in this other area after class ended, but they were having other classes up there most of the time. Towards the end of the 3 months they tried to make more space for us by moving the staff from the main area to another office, but by then the course was mostly over.

  • Other classes being disruptive by being noisy. The noise from both the UXDi class and the mezzanine classes were a recurring issue, and yet if we were the least bit noisy during our break we were yelled at.

  • We were told that we’d be doing so many mock interviews that we’d be sick of them. Not true. There was one mock interview, and then I managed to squeeze in another one with an instructor at the last minute during final projects. I felt so unprepared, and unfortunately was unable to practice the pointers they gave me since that was it. No more class.

  • The curriculum said they’d teach you pair programming but there was only a single instance in the entire course that they did a lab where we had to pair program. On that note, there were other things listed in the curriculum that didn’t get taught either.

  • Complete lack of feedback. The website advertised that you would be receiving feedback on your progress every week from the instructors and that there'd be one-on-one attention. The first couple weeks we weren't even getting any feedback on our homework, let alone feedback on how we were doing. You can only really judge yourself in these instances to a certain extent. I really wanted to know what they thought of my solutions and if my code was messy, etc. The one-on-ones with the instructors were sporadic. We did 3 major projects in the program and I didn't receive any feedback whatsoever on the first 2 I did. I was shocked when people came up to me after the 3rd and final project to tell me they really liked it, since I was used to no one mentioning the projects at all.
    • On that note I was also disappointed and depressed after the presentations of the first project. To work so hard on something and then have them rush through your presentation because they're anxious to get done so the class could start drinking (full disclosure: I'm not much of a drinker) and then not ever get to hear how I did on the project and having it just be dismissed—that was frustrating. It was after that first project that I really wanted to just drop the program. Weeks of being unhappy with the quality of the program culminated in this event and the following week was the first time I missed turning in a homework assignment because I thought, "Fuck it, it's not like they'll notice or care."
  • Our cohort ended up not getting an apprenticeship program due to lack of participation from any companies. Since this was the deciding factor in me even attending, I was disappointed and furious. I thought they had more established structure in place. I think they need to be more transparent about this on their website; that the apprenticeship program is not a definite thing that is available to every cohort.

  • I was told that 96% of students get the kind of job they were looking for within 3 months of the program ending. Either that statistic is invalid or our cohort changed it drastically. Some weren’t looking for jobs after the program ended and were just doing it to enrich themselves. At this point, out of the people who were wanting jobs afterwards though, only 1 of my classmates has gotten a full-time position as a Ruby on Rails Software Engineer; 4 or 5 have gotten internships for front-end and full-stack (I believe); and a couple went back to what they were doing before the program after unsuccessfully finding anything. The rest are still looking for something.

Things I Did Enjoy About the Program

  • I learned tons more about back-end development, just not enough to get an entry-level position doing back-end/full-stack.
  • It really lit the fire under my ass to create project after project to practice, learn, and produce. I created much more during the program than I’ve created in years.
  • I finally got some experience using Github to collaborate instead of just using it as a versioning system for myself.
  • It increased my confidence as a web developer because I knew so much more about the entire stack.
  • I met some really great people in the course whom I now continue to be friends with.
  • Getting to take a few field trips to local companies, see their offices, and hear about how they do things was pretty awesome.
  • The producer and administrative staff are really nice and I definitely felt like they wanted to help me succeed.

Final Thoughts

I know some of my classmates thought I was taking things way too seriously, but this wasn’t just something to do on a whim, or that parents were paying for, etc. This was my life. Failure was not an option and it was a big risk for me to take out a loan when I was already so much in debt, without knowing whether it would pay off, not to mention my happiness being on the line. As it turns out, General Assembly just wasn’t the right bootcamp for someone like me who was looking for a high-intensity learning environment where everyone was really dedicated. I know I would have enjoyed a place like Hack Reactor far better or even Dev Bootcamp.

The bootcamp experience is different for everyone, even in the same cohorts. It’s a work in progress, and it can be especially different depending on what your personal goals are, and what you hope to accomplish. I know some of my classmates were satisfied with the experience and I know some who were upset with the same things I was. Do I think it was better than staying home to continue learning on my own? Absolutely. Do I think it was worth $11,500? Not at all. I think the price tag should have been reduced, but maybe the quality has changed and it’s justified now. That’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself. This all really only reflects the experience I had at the time.

One of the big questions people have emailed me to ask is whether someone who has no programming experience can really get a job after doing this program. In addition to the statistics of my classmates above I’ll say this:

Right now the San Francisco Bay Area is flooded with entry-level software engineers. There is no shortage of developers, but there is a shortage of skilled developers. I was constantly lauded by my classmates for being really good at programming and I was told by a member of the staff that I was one of the top students they had ever had in any of the cohorts. On top of that all my friends work in the local tech scene and I have great contacts and lots of opportunities to network. I still couldn’t find a job as a Ruby on Rails developer. My opinion is that General Assembly would be a good start to your learning, but you’re going to have to put in a lot of work afterwards to continue gaining skills and experience. Don’t expect to come out of this bootcamp and have a job right away.

Since companies are only interested in my front-end development skills (I’ve been doing front-end for half my life), I finally accepted that I’m just going to have to continue doing front-end and hope that I can slowly work myself into a full-stack role eventually.