Rocket Academy Review — Part 1: Selecting a Bootcamp
If you are reading this, you’re probably doing some serious research about which coding bootcamp to join. In this article, I try to detail my end to end experience with Rocket Academy (RA), from enrolling to graduating. I hope this article helps someone with their own bootcamp selection process and make an informed decision.
Some Context - Who am I?
I come from an Accountancy and Finance from NTU. Not long after my graduation, I decided to learn programming in earnest because it has always been at the back of my mind.
Fast forward to today, I have graduated from Rocket Academy’s flagship 6-month Bootcamp, and had a really wholesome time learning about Software Engineering.
I have no regrets choosing RA and would definitely recommend their course to anyone interested.
Data Science or Software Engineering?
Initially, I was debating internally whether I should take on a data science coding bootcamp or a software engineering bootcamp. Personally, I was initially leaning towards the former, as I had studied finance and accounting previously, and there was some immediate synergies with analytics in the industry.
On the other hand, I had always been interested in learning about real software engineering/development. I recalled the days of trying of learning learn some simple web app programming through some Udemy courses. However, there were many difficulties, ranging from unhelpful Stackoverflow answers to beginners like myself, errors during setting up on the environment, and just a general sense of frustration and lack of direction where there was no one to ask when I faced a technical challenge. This was done all while juggling two degrees.
Admittedly, it was not the most pleasant experience and I gave up a few times trying to do this on my own. Furthermore, there were no immediate synergies between what I did in university and going the Software Engineering route.
With all the considerations I had in mind, I started googling.
My Research Process
I have heard from a couple of friends of their coding bootcamp experiences and most were subpar. The narrative is typically the same where the curriculum is poorly designed and they are really more of a money grab especially with all the government subsidies. Hence, I was determined to look for a course that was genuinely rigorous and value for my money.
At the time of my research (Q2 2020), IMDA had a programme known as the Tech Immersion and Placement Programme (TIPP), where several software engineering coding institutions featured was eligible for subsidies given by the government.
These included General Assembly, Trent Global College and Thoughtworks. Out of the 3, I was really interested in joining Thoughtworks as they had a great reputation. I had friends who joined them previously and had an amazing time and results.
Unfortunately, they were not accepting applications at that time so I had to look for alternatives. The next choice that I was seriously considering was General Assembly’s Data Science bootcamp. This was because it had a great brand name and arguably the longest track record of being a coding bootcamp in Singapore. However, it is hard to ascertain the standard of the course because the instructors are always changing, and your experience may differ greatly from one batch to the next.
Chancing Upon Rocket Academy
At the top of my google search, I came across this particular Google Ad for Rocket Academy. On their website, it offered a very honest and refreshing perspective on the realities of career switching to becoming a Software Engineer. At the point in time, RA had a 4–5 pager FAQs about what it meant to be a Software Engineer in Singapore (it has since refactored slightly and you can find it here).
These FAQ Topics included salary expectations, career progression, types of roles within the industry etc. The detailed write up left a lasting impression on me as RA is very transparent about the realities of the industry for a career switcher. It was not selling hopium to anyone looking to break into this industry, unlike some other bootcamps.
RA features Kai and Akira, who are the co-founders of RA and instructors. They have a great credentials and experience working in the industry, which gave me an added boost of confidence of my potential experience at the bootcamp.
Curious to find out more, I reached out to Kai, who is the founder of RA. During our call, we discussed about my career aspirations and concerns about either becoming a data scientist or a software engineer.
Kai was unreserved in providing helpful and unbiased viewpoints about what it meant to be a data scientist vs a software engineer. It was congruent to my experiences working in tech firm just prior, as well as my peers’ experiences in the industry. Hence, I could tell that the advice was legitimate and genuine.
The main tenets surrounding this discussion involved topics such as :
1. Supply of jobs available in the industry
There are typically fewer Data Science jobs as compared to Software Engineering jobs. Furthermore, they usually exist at larger companies, later stage start ups which have a lot of data to work with, and is not something that a bootcamp grad usually get to do.
However, a simple Linkedin search would yield a lot more opportunities for Software Engineers.
2. Concepts involved
Data Science jobs often involve higher level knowledge of mathematics/statistics and good proficiency in programming. However, as a bootcamp student, it is unlikely you are good at both. For me, it was neither.
A Data Science bootcamp would valiantly attempt to cover both the coding aspects and the mathematical/statistical aspects in typically 12 weeks. A student like me who has no strong background in coding/advanced mathematics will struggle with both in a really short amount of time.
Furthermore, a lot of the difficult statistical logic is abstracted away into common libraries, which meant that it is difficult for a bootcamp to place a lot of emphasis on these given the short time frame.
Hence, I thought that if I made it out alive, I would at best only have subpar knowledge, and that was not a holistic outcome for me. Thus, it made sense for me to give myself ample time and space to just focus on coding first, which before embarking on the data science further in some future course.
3. What does a Software Engineering / Data Science job really entail?
The reality is that most entry level roles are skewed towards data analytics and not data-science. That is usually closer creating dashboards in Tableau or even doing data engineering to ensure the data pipelines are properly set up, before analysis can take place.
On the other hand, the knowledge from a software development bootcamp is very applicable to most of today’s modern tech startups, and easily extensible to various other software engineering fields.
After much reflection, I realized that data analytics was not something that I really wanted to do (at least at this point of time), and I was more interested in building cool applications that a fullstack developer could do upon graduation.
Genuine and Sincere
Most importantly, I could sense how earnest Kai was in trying to help me succeed, regardless if I were to join his course or not. He even recommended a friend of his who attended GA’s Data Science course to me, so much so that I could make an informed choice. His willingness to go the extra mile for someone who is not even his student touched me. After some more pondering, I decided to enrol into their Intro to Coding course: SWE 101.
But Rocket Academy doesn’t have a long track record. Is this a truly a good strategy?
You probably heard of the saying:
Past performance is not indication of future performance.
This a really common phrase in finance, especially when it comes to making investment decisions. If you read between the lines, this phrase actually is asking you to be cognisant that the context of said past performance may have changed in today’s settings.
Hence, it is always good to ask yourself whether something that was effective previously, is still effective today? Would the yesteryear coding bootcamp models still be effective in today’s tech scene? Regardless of me or anyone pitching to you whatever bootcamp, it is important to keep this in mind in order to ensure your own success.
In my opinion, start ups like RA are all about challenging the status quo, and trying to do things better where incumbents cannot or refuse to. In other words, being new can be a legitimate strategy.
For me, I banked on this because:
- RA is a new entrant to the market, and they are highly motivated to prove themselves to be the best bootcamp in the region.
- The instructors have great track record and credentials. Both Kai and Akira have the combined experience of being a renowned former General Assembly instructor and the experience for working in the FAANGs.
- RA prides itself on its superior curriculum as compared to what most other bootcamps offer, in terms of depth and scope. Based on the feedback from my friends who study Computer Science, the purported curriculum is indeed very rigorous, and much more practical than what they learn in University.
- You get to test run with them through the Basics course (previously known as SWE 101) to validate my own hypotheses above before committing to their 6 month Bootcamp course.
Of course, nothing is perfect. Said curriculum, while superior in theory, was still relatively untested at the time on my choosing. But with all things considered, my take was that the quality should not deviate too far from the other offerings in the market or existing online courses. My hypothesis was that the Basics course or SWE 101 would be a good proxy of the Bootcamp experience.
Ultimately, the true value for me is in being able to have highly responsive feedback on my doubts by experienced programmers.
Fast forward to today, I am glad to say that the course though unpolished at the start, quickly lived up to my expectations.
This has been my 2 cents on how you can go about choosing a bootcamp. While I am no pro, I do believe the basic tenets are applicable.
Before deciding on any bootcamp, always try to chat with past students and find out more about their experiences. LinkedIn is a powerful avenue to do that and admittedly, I could have done more of that in my own process as well. If their reputation precedes them, act accordingly.
Nonetheless, always practise your professional judgment and common sense when choosing a course. If you were to seek my advice, I would say that context is king.
Brand names and track records don’t always matter, and don’t be quick to dismiss new ideas and concepts. Try to understand what the underlying offering is and make a decision from there.
This has been Part 1 of my review with Rocket Academy. You can check out Part 2 of my experience in the Basics course here.
Have any questions? Feel free to drop me a mail at email@example.com or connect with me on LinkedIn.
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