The Fast Track to Start-Up Life
Suppose you're sitting around your hometown, whether it's Poughkeepsie or Pensacola, with big dreams of start-up life in Silicon Valley but only a modest amount of tech know-how and absolutely no idea of how to get where you want to go. Do you head to university or sign up for a graduate course to gain the skills you need? Do you pack your bags for the Bay Area and pray you land on your feet? Both paths are risky. Lachy Groom suggests there may be a better way.
Already a veteran of several start-ups at the tender age of 17, Groom desperately wanted a life of entrepreneurship in America's tech hub but being from Perth, Australia, he was, well, as far away from the action as you can get geographically. Then he spotted an ad by Shereef Bishay in Hacker News, offering to teach highly motivated but relatively unskilled novices the programming language Ruby on Rails in an intense eight-week course in San Francisco, which Bishay dubbed Dev Bootcamp.
Groom signed up and never looked back. He completed the intensive experience in the spring of this year and is now navigating the choppy waters of U.S. immigration for the necessary visa to start work as a Dev Bootcamp employee in the Valley. And he's not the only one of his cohort of 20, including recent grads, mid-career professionals from industries spanning insurance to finance, and a handful of start-up veterans, who found the experience life-changing: 88% of Groom's fellow students currently have job offers on the table, with approximately 60% of those headed to start-ups and the remaining 40% mostly employed at consultancies.
"I went with the idea that I would use [programming] as a skill to complement me being in start-ups," Groom told Inc.com, explaining that Dev Bootcamp was a great choice for others with similar ambitions but cautioning, "the thing about Dev Bootcamp is you're trained to become a software engineer, not just given enough knowledge so that you can be competent in a conversation with a CTO, so I think it's great for start-up people to do it as long as they're willing to put in the hard effort because it's a very intense course."
"It's officially nine-to-six every day but you'll struggle to find a day when people aren't there until midnight," Groom says, noting participants basically put their lives completely on hold for the duration of the course, which was eight weeks for Groom but is increasing to 10 weeks for future courses.
The payoffs for the hard work can be substantial, though.
"We were ready for entry-level programming positions," by the end of the bootcamp Groom reports. And he believes program grads even have an edge over other junior-level candidates. "A lot of programmers get stuck and then they get frustrated and stop, but there was a focus on how to get to that next level and where to go for solutions. We have that ability to learn very quickly after going through this course," he says.
Talks by folks from Twitter and the CEO of IGN among other weekly speakers also can't hurt when it comes to preparing the fledgling programmers and plugging them in to the start-up community.
So who is right for Dev Bootcamp? With the experience being so full-on, motivation is key as, obviously, is a modicum of intelligence and a basic grounding in technology, if not programming.
"You need tech context. You need to know that programming languages power the Web. You need to maybe have a Twitter and a Facebook account," says Groom. Also, counter to popular images of awkward basement-bound programmers, social skills are incredibly important as well, according to Groom. "Definitely one of the big skills is how good are you at working in a team. Are you a person with a lot of empathy? Empathy is something we focus on because that's something you need to be a great software engineer, because you need to be empathetic with your users and your team."
And while he's shattering stereotypes of who's cut out for software engineering, Groom notes that the program, though still tilted heavily towards men, is making special efforts to attract women.
"It's definitely a mission to take it to 50-50 gender balance, but in this one it was three out of 20," he says.
Efforts to attract more female participants include a scholarship for women and further company funding to cover complete tuition of some women, which is in the works but yet to be nailed down.
Groom attended Dev Bootcamp straight out of high school, skipping college to move to Silicon Valley.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with university, but if you know you want to be a software engineer, this is the fastest path. We had computer science people do it and they said this blows their CS degree out of the water," he says.
"If you want to become a software engineer at any stage of your life, this is perfect."
"I think we're at the very beginning of a wave of these programs," he adds. "There's such a huge demand and when there's such a huge demand for something, it's nature that solutions will pop up to fill the demand."
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.