A Brutally Honest Review of Fullstack Academy
I wanted to write this post after a good amount of time and reflection. Mainly though, I wanted to see how the job search panned out for everyone. It’s now been close to 4 months since I finished the immersive software engineering program at Fullstack Academy, and I have some concerning thoughts. I want to make clear first that I attended the part-time program, and I was at the original campus in New York City. There is a Chicago campus, and the bootcamp can be done remotely as well.
I’ve written here about my decision to enter Fullstack Academy and talked through my thought process of choosing this bootcamp over others. That post came at the end of 2017 right before I started the program. I recently discussed here on whether coding bootcamps are worth doing, but I didn’t really talk specifically about Fullstack Academy.
I don’t want to go in depth on the actual experience of attending Fullstack Academy, since there are so many reviews on Course Report and SwitchUp with lots to read on that. By the way, I want to point out something about these reviews. From what I can tell, almost all the reviews are from grads who have already secured a job after finishing the program or fresh grads who haven’t really been through the job search yet. That means the reviews does skew positively. With looking at reviews for anything, you have to consider who is doing the reviewing. For Fullstack Academy, I was only contacted to leave a review of the school on these sites after giving notification of accepting a job offer. Everyone wants to look good, so I completely understand why they do this. Just be mindful of it when reading reviews.
From a purely educational standpoint, Fullstack Academy is great. I think it deserves the acclaim that it gets for that regard. When I meet grads from other schools, I feel like grads from Fullstack Academy somehow learned more. I don’t know how, since it seems like curricula between all these bootcamp programs are pretty much the same. When I look at the projects that come out of Fullstack Academy, I’m always super impressed. The projects are posted on the official YouTube channel and website, so feel free to check those out. What I believe is the best thing that Fullstack Academy teaches is how to work in a group. In the second half of the program, students are given one major project and the final project both done as groups. I know that other bootcamp programs have their final projects done individually. Working on a group project is the closest simulation that you can get to working professionally. You’ll have to deal with version control and different personalities.
Here’s where my gripes come in. I don’t think Fullstack Academy helps their grads much in landing jobs. First, I just want to state that there really is only so much an outside party can help one in this journey. Ultimately, nobody can interview for you. Nobody can write your resume for you. Nobody can network for you. However, I think there’s an issue when so many grads are unable to find jobs. By the way, most of this criticism can probably be said about other bootcamps. I can only speak on what I see from Fullstack Academy. Out of the 10 or so people from my cohort who have gone onto job search, 4 have secured jobs after almost 4 months since graduation. It seems that the full-time students who graduated around the same time haven’t had much more luck.
The lack of jobs isn’t at the fault of Fullstack Academy, because there’s a clear saturation in the job market. Well, maybe you can blame bootcamps a little. It’s now been over 5 years since the first bootcamps started popping up, and the market isn’t the same anymore with all these bootcamp grads having flooded it. According to a recent report by Course Report, bootcamps will graduate over 20,000 students in 2018. There were just over 2,000 grads back in the year of 2013, and bootcamps are now doing corporate training as well. In the earlier years, bootcamp grads came in and filled a need in the tech industry. Now that the need has been met for the most part, it’s harder for people to just jump into a job after acquiring some knowledge. You can see this in the data from outcomes reports out of bootcamps. Employment after graduation rate and starting salary seem to trend downward over the years.
There are still jobs out there for entry-level programmers, but the jobs may not be where these bootcamp grads are looking. Again, this is not the fault of Fullstack Academy. People are obviously going to start their job search where they have currently established their lives, so people going to Fullstack Academy or other bootcamps in NYC are going to try to find a job in NYC. The problem here is that there are so many bootcamps in NYC alone. In fact, Course Report shows that NYC has by far the highest number of bootcamp programs with 22! Some big name schools with campuses there include App Academy, Hack Reactor, Flatiron School, Codesmith, Galvanize, and of course Fullstack Academy. The cities tied with the second most bootcamps are San Francisco and Seattle with just 13 apiece. Yeah, you read that right. NYC has more bootcamps than the biggest tech hub of the world. It’s no wonder that it can be tough to land a job in NYC with all this competition.
The Council on Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR) has outcomes reports from various bootcamps across the United States and even one in Indonesia. If you take a look at the data, I think you’ll find that bootcamps located outside of tech hubs like SF and NYC seem to have higher employment after graduation rates. Granted, you’ll find that the pay is usually lower. Larger tech hubs generally have higher cost of living though. From my own personal experience and hearing the experience of others, it’s easier to get a job somewhere like Pittsburgh or Chicago where there’s less competition. I currently have a co-worker who is a grad from the Chicago campus of Fullstack Academy, and he informed me that 15-16 of 19 people from his cohort secured jobs. They graduated around 3 weeks after my cohort did.
So what can Fullstack Academy actually do? Making sure their grads are employed isn’t exactly their responsibility, and this mostly falls on the shoulders of the grads themselves. However, I think they could definitely be more upfront about how the market is before just taking tuition money from all these students. Their marketing is at least not as misleading as the ads I’ve seen from other bootcamps. In my opinion, the number one problem with Fullstack Academy specifically at the NYC campus is how many students they take on. At any given time, there are 3-5 cohorts taking place. I’m not even counting the part-time program or remote program. Each cohort can have up to 40 or so students. The full-time program takes 13 weeks, so just imagine how many people are coming out and entering the job market every month. With this many students, I think it’s hard for Fullstack Academy to give individualized attention. By the time a graduate is 6 weeks into his or her job search, Fullstack Academy has another batch of grads to prepare for the job search and only has more to come as this cycle repeats. In an ideal world, I think career services should be checking in on grads throughout their job search.
Fullstack Academy prides itself on having a stringent application process and only taking students with a certain level of knowledge. However, I honestly think it’s pretty damn easy to get in. I wrote about that here. I understand that a bootcamp is a business, and taking tuition is how they make money. However, I think Fullstack Academy’s reputation will start to suffer if this keeps going on. I don’t want the school to be just another General Assembly churning out as many grads as possible. General Assembly did just get bought out for $412.5 million earlier in the year, so I guess it does make sense from a business standpoint.
As a bootcamp grad, I want as much help as possible to get a job. That is after all the goal of all these students sacrificing months of their time and thousands of dollars. I also don’t want to see unqualified folks get into Fullstack Academy and expect the world when they come out. I feel that admissions should be tightened up, and I feel that career services could do a better job at preparing the students. From the resumes I’ve seen of Fullstack Academy grads, there’s a lot of work to be done. Fullstack Academy also has what they call Hiring Day, which is a day at the end of the program for students to meet employers. I feel that students could be given more time to prepare for it. I’ve even heard that students will sometimes face an employer who is looking for developers with experience. Those employers probably shouldn’t even be at Hiring Day, since almost all bootcamp grads don’t have prior professional experience.
I’m most likely not going to leave a review of Fullstack Academy on some site, because I can’t boil my feelings down to some arbitrary rating. On one hand, I have to thank Fullstack Academy a lot. I have my start in tech as a software developer because of the school. Fullstack Academy can get a student to the level of a professional developer by the end of the program. I believe that, and that’s also all Fullstack Academy is obligated to do. You’re pretty much on your own when it comes to actually landing a job. That’s how it is with most bootcamps, so I really shouldn’t single out Fullstack Academy. As someone who went there, I just hope Fullstack Academy does improve. I’m sure the people in charge have the best interests of the students as well as the business in mind, but I think there needs to be a long-term look at how the industry is being affected by bootcamps and how to handle that. I don’t want there to be thousands of bootcamp grads out there left jobless, which I think will happen. I also think this growth of bootcamps has to stop at some point. It’s unsustainable. For now, I just feel very grateful to have been able to get where I am now. Almost everyday though, I think about my fellow bootcamp grads who haven’t been as lucky.