Expensive coding boot camps are everywhere. I went for free. Cody Lake Oct 22, 2020 · 5 min read

You do not need to spend thousands of dollars to get started in software engineering. Doing it for free is possible. Here are the three most important steps that I took.

Coding boot camps are not the right fit for every aspiring software developer. All of them have mixed reviews. With the pandemic, many offer online-only instruction. This is not ideal for those who learn with direct hands-on assistance or through face-to-face instruction.

Myself, I am the person who hears something interesting and immediately searches for more. Getting lost in a web of references and sources is my ideal Sunday morning. Seriously, I love knowledge.

Before starting boot camp in May this year, I knew some basic modern web development concepts, which mostly came from my own random info-hunting. Well, that, and making my Myspace page more spiffy with HTML/CSS in grade school. Simpler times, indeed. This all goes to say that I was not entirely new to the game but I never worked on a project in any real capacity.

As luck would have it, a friend told me about a job readiness program that provides training grants to eligible people looking to acquire in-demand skills like web development. The national program receives funds from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Through WIOA, my friend took courses for free with Microtrain here in Chicago. You bet that I looked into it.

Fast-forward several months to October 2020 and I am proud to say that I graduated from Agile Full Stack Web and Hybrid Mobile App Development boot camp. I am currently looking for roles in the web development tutoring space to master my craft by teaching.

My journey to professional software engineer is blossoming, so, I created this list of three most important steps that I took to get started, for free. In the name of, you know, spreading the seeds of knowledge.

  1. Honestly ask yourself if the commitment is possible for you right now. I am not saying if you can’t stand the heat then get out of the kitchen. Web development is hard and I understand the excitement to jump right in. It’s actually better to learn over time with repetition and healthy habits. A good boot camp experience will set you up with both.

Before I committed to Microtrain, I dropped in on a class that was in session to see how the students worked. The instructor mentioned that succeeding meant a 20-40 hours per week commitment outside of class. With a sad but determined heart, I cleared out my schedule for the entire 12 weeks of boot camp. No hobby writing meetups, no extra shifts at work, no expensive purchases, and hardly any days off for a few months.

2. Prioritize friendliness and polite follow-ups for your grant application. Not only did I attend boot camp at no cost, Microtrain also threw in a free laptop to use during the course and keep afterwards. This savings was possible because of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

A training grant is only one of the many initiatives that WIOA administers through local American Job Centers throughout the United States. You can search for an American Job Center in your zip code at this site. There are job-readiness offerings for a variety of industries, including construction and sales.

My number one advice is do not give up on the grant because there are application hoops. I was in application limbo for more than eight weeks before getting approved for a training voucher. On the bright side, Microtrain was paid automatically and nothing came out of my pocket.

I followed up each week with a friendly phone call to check on my application. I submitted documents, like pay stubs and proof of residence, as soon as it was asked of me. The eligibility process is murky. I spoke several times with my American Job Center career coach to clarify my own financial circumstances.

If I had to resubmit documents for whatever reason, I did it with a smile and said thank you. Things happen! From PDF attachment permissions, a new virtual application software, and, missing details, it felt like there was always something my application needed. Be patient and persistent. It’s free money, for goodness sake. The least we can do is have patience for the person in charge of administering that money.

3. Look into basic command line, git, HTML/CSS and JavaScript now, before you begin boot camp. It is totally possible to start with very little experience, like me. But a little bit of strategic preparation goes a long way.

For me, prep was as gloriously simple as turning on my laptop before class and looking around my Ubuntu Linux distribution to get used to using a command line. Familiarity with Git, the top free and online version control software, is also really helpful. In terms of HTML/CSS and JavaScript, get started on freecodecamp.org, like now.

The point of this practice is not necessarily to memorize or prove anything. So, do not worry if it all feels unfamiliar. That is because it is unfamiliar! Preparation is about getting yourself ready to really look at and read code.

If you are an extra special sunflower, prepare a running list of questions to ask during boot camp. A list of books to read and sources to check is also a clear winner in my book.

Keep in mind that note-keeping is only as good as the system you have for referring back to it. Whether it is on paper, in your phone, or somewhere else, you need to have a way of keeping track of the resources that you are interested in. That way, you may even begin to develop some idea of what you want to deliver to your clients one day.

You can get started in software engineering for free. The cost is that you need to shell out lots of time and patience. If you are on board with the above steps, then I promise you it is worth it. Besides all of the technical skills I have gained, I also have the confidence of knowing that I can independently study, self-motivate, and persevere through frustrating code bugs.

If you are a hiring manager with a web development teaching role in mind, or, if you have questions for me, please send me a note on LinkedIn. Cheers!

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Cody Lake


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