On Fullstack Academy’s Grace Hopper Program | An Alumna’s Review of A Coding Bootcamp

Brief Intro

This past April, I graduated from the Grace Hopper Program at Fullstack Academy — a 17-week coding bootcamp designed to help women and non-binary folk break into tech.

Both of my parents were computer programmers, who met at work in Poland, and I watched my dad work as an engineer until his unexpected death in the fall of 2019. He always had his coding environment open, and studied from huge tomes of books, and it was because of him that as a teen I would check out books about HTML and CSS at the local library and design websites from scratch. Tech has always been a part of my life, and when the opportunity presented itself to explore making it a greater part of my professional life, I pursued it with a subtle excitement.

Grace Hopper was launched in New York City, which remains its headquarters, in 2016, and has since seen more than 400 graduates complete its requirements and begin new careers.

The Grace Hopper curriculum is focused on fullstack JavaScript — JavaScript a language used predominantly for web development (with potential to apply it to mobile apps and otherwise) — alongside its relevant frameworks for programming the front-end (a user interface of a website, for example) as well as back-end (a database and server, for example, which manage the data on which a website may dynamically rely).

One unique dimension of the program design also worth noting here is its delayed tuition model. Students begin to pay back tuition thirty days after they secure their first technical role. If they do not find a job within a year of graduation, they are not obligated to pay anything whatsoever.

The program was a fabulous experience overall, and I have been very excited to join Fullstack’s extensive alumni network, which years after its founding has roots across the entire country.

On Bootcamp Prep, Admission & Remote Bootcamp Foundations

The application process for Grace Hopper is very straightforward: an applicant submits their application, then completes a coding assignment to demonstrate a basic grasp of JavaScript and its algorithmic principles, then completes a behavioral interview — usually with a fellow, an alum(na) of either the Fullstack or Grace Hopper track who has stayed on to work for the cohort following their own, administering interviews and mentoring current students.

To prepare for what is likely the most challenging dimension of the application process — the coding assignment — most applicants spend several weeks prior to the submission of their application completing Fullstack’s intentionally-designed-for-prep bootcamp prep program, an intensive immersion in JavaScript foundations [the nature of JavaScript variables and syntax, the use of data structures (arrays, objects, etc.), the use of recursion to solve multi-dimensional problems, and more].

This prep is offered in live group sessions or as a self-study. As I prefer to pace my own learning and also couldn’t commit to the schedules proposed for the other tracks, I selected the latter. Immersing one’s self in bootcamp prep is an ideal way to test the waters of a career in software development — if one enjoys the problem-solving, sometimes mathematical-esque in nature; the solution-building from scratch; and the culture exuded by the instructors, chances are good that a multi-month commitment to Grace Hopper would be a good next step, pending admission.

I learn best by seeing mind models (theory) relate to concrete frameworks (praxis), and — as one small ‘critique’ — what I found in bootcamp prep is that, despite certain lessons’ reliance on real-world examples (such as manipulating objects to determine students’ attendance in class, or tracking lists of persons or places via arrays), content felt like it operated in a vacuum. It wasn’t until I found myself building apps from scratch and watching data structures relate to and build off each other that I felt I had gained a true mastery over otherwise super basic principles, and began to understand them from the inside out.

After the practice given by bootcamp prep, in early 2020, I applied for Grace Hopper. The coding assessment required a straightforward application of concepts learned there, via the completion of four assigned problems presented in an online development environment (see HackerRank). The problems’ difficulty was slightly elevated over the prep track, with the intent to test a candidate’s capacity to integrate across prep units.

The interview, which includes a peer-programming dimension, did the same — it tests, before and with the involvement of another person, communication and problem-solving skills that are necessary for success during the bootcamp process.

I was quickly admitted, but severe health difficulties delayed my starting until December, which is when I began the remote (always remote, pandemic-imposed limitations aside) process of completing bootcamp foundations. Foundations provide an elevation of the structure to which one is exposed to during the bootcamp prep process: Students begin to code in a more nuanced development environment on their own machines, solving problems two to three times more complex, on a schedule that requires the regular submission of assessments to be graded.

While students experience the bootcamp foundations process differently, I found it relatively straightforward and simple. In some ways, the more complex a problem — the more pieces there are to integrate — the easier a time I have with it; the more I enjoy it.

Grace Hopper also estimates that foundations require 20 hours or more of work time per week, but there were some weeks where the time I put into consuming the relevant knowledge and completing the assignments ranged more in the 5 to 10-hour range.

On the Live Program

The live portion of the program begins a few weeks after bootcamp foundations (in this case, in early January), and admission into this latter portion is given pending successful completion of the prior month’s remote work and assignments.

My cohort was, as to be expected given the pandemic, entirely remote, so I spent several weeks at my computer, logged daily into a Zoom room of fifty-plus students. (Outside the pandemic-imposed restrictions, Grace Hopper usually offers in-person classes in NYC and Chicago.)

Grace Hopper’s live portion is divided into two parts:

1. a junior phase, during which students receive daily lectures from Grace Hopper junior or senior instructors, practice taught content on any given day in individual labs, and/or pair program with a randomly-selected fellow student through workshops, the entire time learning and then applying Fullstack’s — appropriately entitled — fullstack JavaScript (JS) curriculum;

A Side Note: Just like admission into the live portion of the Grace Hopper curriculum is contingent on the completion of the foundations process, admission into the senior phase is contingent on the completion of junior phase.

The curriculum, as alluded to above, focuses on what can be called “vanilla” — or pure— JavaScript, along with several sub- or related technologies.

These related technologies include React, the Facebook-developed JavaScript framework for the building of user interfaces; Redux, a tool used to manage app state (or the status of data in an app at any given moment in time, be it across all users’ platforms or a single user’s individual session); and SQL, a relational database (wherein the different data models have inherent associations with each other), as well as the use of PostgreSQL, to manage created databases, and Sequelize, which translates SQL code to JavaScript for easier implementation; among others.

The curriculum also includes a deeper introduction into the app development and testing environments, requiring fluency with Node.js (a runtime environment for JavaScript) and git version control (by which developers archive changes to their code bases, managing a program’s versions over time), alongside practice with the writing and execution of tests using frameworks such as Jasmine and Mocha/Chai.

Time is also spent on the two sibling tools often manifested with JavaScript in the web development context — HTML, a markup language for the manifestation of content on the browser, and CSS, a styling language by which user design and experience principles is embedded into written content.

2. a senior phase, during which students build three individual or group projects from the ground up, stretching their technical skills, often learning and applying some combination of new technologies, alongside the daily introduction of more complex data structures (such as binary search trees, heaps, and graphs) alongside the algorithms necessary for the efficient processing and managing of given data, an efficiency determined by measuring their computational complexity (otherwise known as big O notation).

The first project is aptly named Grace Shopper, and in four to five days requires a group to develop an e-commerce site (i.e., Grace & Co.). Grace Shopper serves as Grace Hopper’s introduction to team development and project management, alongside being an opportunity to practice the tools acquired over the weeks prior within a true developmental environment.

This project is followed by a solo project begun — and potentially not completed — during a 4-day Hackathon-styled intensive, for which students are encouraged to explore and apply a new technology.

These two projects are followed by the capstone project, wherein student groups decide on a project of their own choosing — whether it is a developmental or data visualization tool, an app to manage food in the fridge, or an app that explores minority linguistic communities (only some examples from my or recent cohorts ) — and build it with the use of any array of technology they have learned via the Grace Hopper curriculum or picked up in their own self-study.

(My solo and capstone projects, for example, relied heavily on the use of React Native, React’s sister framework for mobile app development.)

An Alumna’s Review of the Program Qua Program

It is, I think, generally impossible to give a full evaluation of a program like this one — which is designed to fast-track students into careers — without evaluating its efficacy and success in preparing students for the post-bootcamp experience.

I intend to follow this review with another article about the relationship between bootcamp and job hunting soon, as I enter into and complete my own interview stages with companies of varying forms, sizes, needs, requirements, and interview frameworks. (The diversity across these pieces is shocking! Companies differ to a bewildering degree!)

For now, I’ll leave you with a review of the program within the bounds outlined above — from prep, to foundations, to junior phase, to senior phase and graduation.

What do I truly think? Hinting a little bit ahead, to the piece to follow, given the experiences I’ve already had within the interview context — which are a confirmation of my gut response to the program whilst I was a student — I think Grace Hopper does a phenomenal job of giving students the pieces they need to be effective software engineers at the level of providing sufficient engineering solutions to problems.

Grace Hopper instructors tell students from the beginning that one thing the program values — and is inherent within software development as a career — is the capacity to teach one’s self. The ultimate purpose of the program — wonderfully accomplished, in my opinion — is to present students with a logical, mental model for the structure of an application, through which they will have a framework to enter the development space with a clarity of all the required pieces.

I have been a lifelong self-learner, with many dozens of fascinations and curiosities, and so learning to sit down at my computer to intricately Google into and out of complex programming nuance was relatively easy. In any research capacity, I always enjoy the opportunity to gauge others’ answers and capacities.

React, to give a specific example, is one of three popular frameworks for user interfaces — next to Angular and Vue — but, once the program engrains into a student developer’s mind the need to delve deeply into the documentation available online for the implementation of any technology, learning to see patterns and applications across the spectrum of available languages and pieces becomes simple. An entire new — vast — world opens up.

Instructors come with varying degrees and types of experiences within the software development world, and they are genuinely fluent in the tech stack they teach. I found every one of them committed to the good of the students before them, invested in the fostering of their technical skills as well as their creativity, especially in their capacities as product managers during the program’s project-building phase.

Within the span of three months, I went from someone who carried a very general grasp of the intricate pieces available —be it scripted/ing vs. compiled languages, front-end vs. back-end technologies, web development vs. server or cloud programming — to a developer with a spontaneous capacity to grasp the unique challenges posed by the web and to begin to apply real tools, widely used tools, to their resolution. I graduated excited, and humbled, and grateful, and look forward to embarking on the new path before me in the weeks and months to come.

In this context, thus, I highly encourage Grace Hopper to the student who is curious about this particular tech niche — and will only nuance this recommendation slightly in the piece to come, noting here that the bootcamp landscape has evolved tremendously since 2016, and while I firmly believe there is a job for everyone who graduates, there is a curve to the post-bootcamp stage that a graduate has to be willing to embark upon with courage, energy, and determination, to fully bear forth the fruit of their educational immersion.

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Weronika Janczuk

I'm a software engineer, a literary agent, and a graduate of NYU and Fullstack Academy's Grace Hopper Program. My parents worked with ZETO.com.pl @ Szczecin.