I can’t recommend attending the Starter League.

I’ve found myself being asked the relative value of attending the Starter League ever since I graduated from the program, back when it was called Code Academy, and I’ve never been able to recommend it wholeheartedly. It came up again recently, so I’ve decided to scale up my answer in the form of a blog post. But the short story is that I cannot recommend attending the Starter League if you’re a beginner who wants to be a developer. Starter League is not for you. And even if you have other reasons for wanting to apply, think hard about it. There are significant caveats.

Let me qualify this by saying that it’s a great experience. It’s a good time, and you meet some awesome people – they do a great job of selecting enthusiastic, motivated people. TSL provides a really fun, perhaps once in a lifetime experience where you set aside everything else in life in order to focus on learning web development with Ruby on Rails.

Let me also say that these are views I’ve developed via my own experiences as a student and as a mentor, the course itself may have changed, your mileage may vary. Disclaimer disclaimer disclaimer, this should be taken as an anecdote and not a longitudinal study.

With that out of the way, even shortly after graduating, I was not able to recommend attending without qualifications. I hesitated, and it’s not until today that I’ve put voice to this hesitation. What it comes down to is value. We’re talking about money.

Even at the $6,000 I paid, the return on investment from attending the web development course for the average beginner is dubious at best. And now, at $8,000, I simply cannot recommend it unless some significant changes to the curriculum happen or have already happened.

There are really two kinds of dreams that are being sold here: The first dream is going from zero experience to being a developer in 11 weeks. The second is becoming a tech savvy entrepreneur. I have less to say about the second, except that you should know what kind of investment you’re making and have the wherewithal to accept an $8,000 debit from your account. Unfortunately, many fail to account for it. I have much more to say about those who wish to be developers.

My class was split about 50/50 between those who wanted to be developers and those who wanted to be entrepreneurs. By the end of the course, having lost out on 11 weeks of potential productivity and being out an additional $6,000, it was split more along the lines of 75/25, developers to entrepreneurs, if not more heavily skewed toward developers. And what happened afterward? We did not have stunning successes in employment. We found ourselves struggling in interviews. Enthusiasm and motivation only go so far.

But aren’t I a web developer working in the industry now? Didn’t the program succeed?

Unfortunately, the story is not that simple. I have been technical all my life, having learned HTML from a book in 6th grade and attended electrical engineering courses in college that introduced me to computing concepts at a (painfully) low level. Many of my classmates were not that lucky. How many of us went on to even junior software engineering positions immediately after graduating? From my graduating class of around 80 students, I can probably count them on a single hand. And the few who did, like myself, had prior experience. Most were left with an expensive debt and no real option to pursue a career in development.

Hence, I cannot recommend attending The Starter League’s web development course.

Why? There are a few problems, starting with the definition of “intensive learning.” While 11 weeks may be enough to go from beginner to junior developer, the likelihood that it can be done in a mere 10 hours a week of classroom style lectures is slim to none. Meanwhile, the emphasis on Rails skims over many fundamental computer science and even plain Ruby concepts in favor of getting an app up and running. And if you’re left behind because you’re a beginner, well, that sucks. You might say that it depends on the student to put in the time and effort, and while that is true to an extent, and it is inspiring to see students put in over 40 hours of their own time into learning, I wonder what the point of paying all that tuition money is if you’re just going to learn on your own, anyway.

And, at $8,000, a student could pay a personal tutor over $70/hr for the same amount of instruction time (110 hours), which I have no doubt would result in a much greater understanding of the material, improved skillset and marketability, and therefore higher financial return on investment. Not to mention that the scheduling almost requires a student to quit their job, handing students a double whammy of being out almost ten grand, but potentially also being out 11 weeks of pay. Meanwhile, for those who do manage to hold down a job during the course, or even just commute, the concepts tend not to stick. A forty hour work week tends to squash the learning done in a mostly hands-off lecture.

True, there is the value of the network of Starter League students, who, by now, are all over the world. Simply sharing this experience is an instantly binding thing, and it’s quite exciting just to know entrepreneurs. But the value of networking is both highly dependent on the individual and extremely difficult to quantify, and therefore not something I can base a recommendation on.

Any number of things could change my mind – if it was a full-time program, I feel like it would make it more valuable to both developers and entrepreneurs by valuing time taken off from more profitable pursuits. If it actually succeeded in teaching foundational Computer Science or Ruby concepts and it was structured toward helping students land development jobs.

But as it is, I cannot recommend attending Starter League. It’s almost a shame that they select such awesome students, because it’s hard to watch them get handed such a bad deal.

Edit – In response to “what alternatives are there?”

There’s been multiple mentions of alternatives, and yes, there are both free and paid alternatives that, in my opinion, have better bang for the buck. 

Udacity’s Intro to CS and Web Development courses lay a great foundation for getting to the point where you can teach yourself. If you prefer instruction, there’s App Academy, which is an intensive (read: 40 hours a week) beginner’s Ruby on Rails program in San Francisco that is free to attendees. They only make money through recruitment fees, which, if you want to be a developer, aligns their interests with yours. Meanwhile, DevBootcamp, while expensive at $12,000 for the course, has a 95%+ placement rate for its grads right out of the program. Again, interests in alignment.

Finally, if I were to do it all over again, I’d probably just apply to work at ThoughtWorks. They hire straight out of college from just about any major as long as you can complete the code challenges, and they train you to be, from my experiences working with them, world class developers. Their training program, ThoughtWorks University, is 6 weeks of full-time instruction in Bangalore, India, learning development and the dev process (Agile). That’s 240 hours of instruction. And they pay you. And it’s a job.

Edit #2 – Starter League has evolved into Starter School and seems to be doing a much better job of setting expectations, though notably this new program would have been (far, far) beyond my means when I attended Code Academy – it is now a 9 month, $36,000 program. Please do independent research before making decisions of this caliber.

  • This is the first of the posts about Ruby/Code Academy/Et al. of yours that I have actually connected with and understood, as when you were there and blogged about it, I had no freaking clue what you were talking about, or how it had to do with anything. Sadly, I’m not happy for your revelations, because I would have rather ignorantly held my blissful opinion that my awesome brother was doing something amazingly technical and gaining magic skillz at Code Academy. Still, I’d help you out with any of your future endeavors, as I attempted to help you with Code Academy–for all that little cash amounted to…

    Keep your head up. Keep on keepin’ it real.

  • FormerStarter

    I can’t agree with you enough. Despite what their website insinuates, Starter League does not prepare its students for a developer job. Claiming that a student will become a developer in less than 100 hours of class time is either negligently misguided or straight up deceptive. The fact that the curriculum spends less than 15 hours on the fundamentals of Ruby/programming speaks volumes. It is worth noting that they only imply that you might be able to become a developer at the end of the quarter, from what I can tell they don’t actually say that you will. Its possible they may have changed the wording on their Web Dev page, because I remember getting the impression that this would prepare me for a development job. However, If you were to ask them whether or not Starter League will prepare for you a junior dev job, they wouldn’t say no. Well, they didn’t when I asked. Then they happily cashed my $8,000 check.

    Will a Starter League student finish the quarter able to make a web-app? Sure. But it undoubtedly be an app that is a frankensteined mess of stackoverflow answers. I guess, in the end, that’s all they promise.

  • Interesting thoughts. The most undervalued asset of the SL is the network. They give you the chance to meet all the usual suspects of tech in Chicago and you can connect with them 1 to 1. If you are assertive enough this relationship could lead to a job. Not as a developer though. This could lead to a job about the skills you had before the SL while moonlighting teaching yourself development to switch careers maybe in 1-2 years. uh what? read on…

    I believe that quitting your job to study there full time with no expectations of job placement is way too risky. I always worked full time and studied part time. The SL schedule doesn’t fit this working culture. Work in the day, study at night. Unless your job is open to this.

    Since I took the class my first observation was that they don’t track student progress, there are no tests, it is just too open up in the air type of learning. Maybe it’s the new way of education. But the real world is different. You go to interviews and they test you. They just don’t believe your word.

    My second observation was that it’s just too much information. How do you cram a 4-year CS degree in 3 months. In a CS curriculum you can spend 3 months just learning math, another 3 months of algorithms, another 3 months of Java 101.

    I think that people have to set an outcome. What is your outcome after going to school? get a job? create jobs? travel? With a general outcome then you have to set realistic expectations based on the market. Who is hiring? What skills are they hiring for? How do I pass an interview? Go to the company job board and talk to employees at those companies. You can find many of them at meetups.

    For those starting a company. There are a lot of resources, meetups and free workshops that can guide you to this. Being at 1871 is an excellent place to get all this. There are other places too. The most important thing is that you have to hustle a LOT. You gotta be assertive and have the friendly charm of Kevin Willer.

    Setting realistic expectations for those that already did the SL course and still want to become developers? There are 2 ways.

    1) Getting into more debt, while hustling your ass off, putting 12 hours a day of intensive self-learning or creating study groups. Become a networking monster going to all the meetups possible in a week and meeting loads of people. With the goal of getting an entry level job as a developer within 6 months.

    2) Get a full time job with the skills you had before. Put 5 hours at night studying code and going to meetups with the goal of getting an entry level coder job within 1-2 years.

    You cannot become an employable developer in 3 months. You shouldn’t either expect to become a freelance developer in 3 months and charge market price. That’s stupid and ponzi-esche.

    What I always believed 3-months can do is get enough chops to learn about project management of software development. Or build small MVPs. I think the SL gives you a spark or a seed you can plant. You just need to make it grow.

  • Another Starter

    I agree wholeheartedly with Brian and the other commenters. I paid $6,000 and that was a stretch for me and for what value I got out of the program, but $8,000? No way, it’s not worth it. I did what another commenter said and “hustled” to get a job after TSL. And it was hard. I pretty much begged. But really, I only got the job because of the effort I put into it and, looking back, I could have done it without Starter League. I do somewhat regret spending the money on the program.

    In the quarter I was in, the instructors weren’t available much to help outside of class and in class we are too busy learning new material to ask questions about Demo Day. I also found that the instructors would hurry out of class often, so there was never a chance to get help.

    In the last two weeks, I felt the message became all about Demo Day and “making TSL look good” and not about the instruction. I also talked to many students (10+) that were on a shoestring budget living here while attending that were frustrated with the last 2 weeks of the program. One student said he wished he would have known as he would have packed his bags at week 9 and just gone home. The last 2 weeks are a waste of time and Demo Day ended up feeling too much like a “TSL marketing ploy” in the end. It’s great for the audience, but I didn’t get too much out of it looking back.

    As for the instruction, looking back I can now see that it is just too “mickey mouse”. But I didn’t realize this until the last 2 weeks of the program and after getting a job. After I started working, I quickly realized I knew nothing substantial about classes/OOP, instance variables, software architecture and testing and those are CORE skills a good developer needs. So day 1 of work, I was struggling. It took me weeks to figure that stuff out and get my feet under me. Those concepts should have been step 1 of Starter League. But instead, I felt the class skipped over way too much so you could quickly get to Rails and build a “real” app.

    Another huge problem with the instruction is with teaching unit testing. The worse decision you could make as an entrepreneur is investing in development work that doesn’t have a testing suite. You will regret it. And that message is NOT communicated at all at Starter League. And for developers, once I started working and asking for help from co-workers, the first words out of their mouth was always “Where’s your test?” And I had no idea how to test!

    As for the mentors, this is what convinced me to sign up and I think this is a bit of a scam (sorry for the harsh words, but that’s how I felt). I was pretty frustrated. We had a Demo Day team instructor who showed up once for 30 minutes, then blew us off completely and never again showed up to the meetings she setup. And my everyday mentor had just finished TSL himself. At the time I signed up for the class, the TSL website boasted approximately 20 logos from companies like Braintree so I thought I was going to get a working professional. In comparing notes with other students, most students ended up with mentors that never showed up, didn’t know anything about Rails or were students fresh out of their semester.

    Recommended Improvements:
    More instructors, better course material (the binder they give you is not very helpful at all and is spotty and disorganized), more instructional hours on TECH, better mentors, OOP instruction, more people that know what they are doing, a lower price, and classes at night.

    It COULD be a great program. I hope it gets better. The community is awesome, the staff is fun. But that’s not what they are selling and in the end I felt it was a bit “smoke in mirrors.” Sorry, Starter League, just being honest. I do think Dev Bootcamp is going to be amazing. I contemplated going after TSL but managed to find a job first.

    • I’ve been programming professionally for 17 years and was a mentor for the first 5 quarters Starter League offered. I religiously spent 1 hour or more with my students, every week, pairing on the programming problem they brought to me. Each session was very hands-on and I did my best to offer not only code solutions, but also background information on the whys and what fors. During the last 2 weeks of their program, I offered up even more of my free time, in order to help them bring their Demo Day app to fruition. All 6 of the students I mentored are currently working in the industry.

      One of the biggest missteps TSL made, in my opinion, was allowing recent grads to mentor new students. It takes at least 10 years to master the art of programming, even with a computer science foundation. Without the benefit of experience, the fidelity and accuracy of the information received from other beginners is vulnerable to the Dunning-Kruger effect and is less than effective at increasing the impact and retention of this type of program.

      • Thanks for your perspective, Eric. Dedicated mentors like yourself make a huge difference in students’ lives. I’m glad to hear your pupils are doing well.

  • 志慕

    Well…at least you deduced why/if the experience was worth doing, then shared what you know with others to shape the views of people interested in the field. As long as you learned something and shared it, there will be a bettering ripple effect. Stay positive and productive, and people like me will help fund your future endeavors. Like we did this one. Bottom line: You will be rewarded for your clarity and truth, so keep on keeping on 🙂

  • “You might say that it depends on the student to put in the time and effort, and while that is true to an extent, and it is inspiring to see students put in over 40 hours of their own time into learning, I wonder what the point of paying all that tuition money is if you’re just going to learn on your own, anyway.” <– Like

  • Hey Brian, I’m bummed to hear you had a bad experience. That’s definitely not an outcome we’re proud of. I’d love to talk to you about it. Email me your phone number and we’ll set up a call. Hope to talk soon. -Neal, CEO The Starter League

    • Hey Neal, thanks for stopping by. I am in the process of writing you back. Short story is that we might not get to talk this week.

      Just to clarify, I actually had a really good experience. I had fun, met some awesome people, and got to learn more about Rails. Most of what I applied for was just to be around inspiring people whose blogs I had read, like MIke Ebert, and that’s what I got. I just wish those more of those inspirational people were better prepared for the world after Demo Day.

      • Anon

        can we get an update on how the call went?

  • Vageesh

    Really sad to read Fonso’s story.

    Brian — I admire you for starting the debate. Wondering whether you / others felt TSL promised converting students to professional grade developers or help them get jobs? My understanding going-in was that this is a hands on program that makes you an advanced beginner level coder. I was just looking at their website and saw that they now have DevMynd for those looking to become professional developers. Any thoughts on whether that program is helpful?

    I think couple of great value drivers from this debate could result in more clarity in expectation management of applicants as well as improvement of TSL offerings in future.

    • Note: Vageesh is referring to this post by Alfonso Rush: http://thefonso.tumblr.com/post/46213777318/7days
      If you know anyone hiring Rails developers, please contact Fonso.

      I actually had a great time. I applied mostly because I wanted to be around incredible, inspiring people like Mike Ebert, whose blog I had been reading. In essence, I got what I came for. I’ll admit, I was thinking that I could get into web development as a career, but I’m pretty sure I could have done that anyway – I started a web development internship before I even started Code Academy.

      Part of what made me write this blog post was the reactions I heard on the down-low from other alumni. Here I had gone through all this trouble to meet all these awesome people and now they were basically getting fucked. I let a staff member know my qualms early on after we graduated, and then I tried to help out by creating the alumni talks. The brand may have changed, but the hype remained.

      Designer-to-be? Developer-to-be? Get it done in 3 months. @CodeAcademy Fall 2012 applications are open. – [URL]

      Awesome people were getting into trouble with this because expectations weren’t being set or met, and that didn’t sit well with me. I gradually phased out my involvement because I couldn’t support the hype.

      So to answer your question, yes, I do feel that people are coming into the program thinking that it will make them developers, and they are leaving extremely dissatisfied. And furthermore, I think the ambiguity with expectations leads to people applying thinking that they will be able to build a startup and have web development as a backup career. People going into a startup with a backup career in mind are probably not going to persevere with the startup, and TSL does not prepare one for a development career afterward. Again, after paying tuition and with 11 weeks of lost productivity, people are put into a hard place. I have seen this pattern play out again and again.

      It’s a dangerous game, and you could totally point the finger at the applicants, but I think it should be a responsibility of The Starter League to properly set expectations and weed out the ones who will not succeed.

      • Vageesh

        Note: I’ll put my comments here going forward rather than at FB

        Hi Brian,

        My intention is not to point fingers at anyone. In fact, I like and promote debates. Just trying to understand the possible root causes for the issue.

        If we are to just stick with the facts, I don’t see TSL promoting hiring stats for developers like DevBootcamp does, neither on their website they advertise that after the program one will leave at a level to become a junior developer / apprentice. However, I do remember that some of the alumni did mention at the first get together, the one where they talked about their experience through the program, that a few of them were able to get apprenticeships after the program. The thing I’m curious about is what then results in the assumption that after attending TSL, students will be able to get developer / apprenticeship jobs? From your post it seems like some of their marketing (“Designer-to-be? Developer-to-be? …”) might be creating over-expectations.

        I’m trying to understand how much of the dream is sold vs. assumed. Is it possible that the reality may lie somewhere in between? I do agree that more could be done to manage the expectations more explicitly. E.g. TSL could talk about which audience would benefit the most from the program and what are the tangible results to expect in terms of skills / career outcomes.

        At least in my limited understanding, I believe that TSL is trying to occupy a different niche than DevBootcamp. TSL is focused on helping people that want to scratch their own itch vs. those that will work for others. However, this does not mean that the program can’t be improved. In fact, a lot of suggestions that you made (e.g. regarding tests, software architecture etc) could be incorporated to make the course more solid.

        I hope you don’t take my comments as if I’m trying to side with one party or the other. I’m trying to figure out the problem (and possible solution). I commend you for the dialogue.

      • SA student

        I hope that Neal hooks up Fonso. The Starter League network must count for something right? 🙁

  • Disappointed Alumni

    Here are the videos that I watched that got me to sign up. Now watching them again after going through the program, I am disappointed. The videos left me with the impression that I could get a job out of the program, or at least be well on my way. I felt these videos showed me I had two paths…I could start my own company or be a developer. It seems that the marketing has now changed to “being a starter” and that is fine…but if it’s the case, these videos need to be take down.

    It seems in these comments that we are debating what TSL promised to deliver and that is, in essence, the problem. Students are mis-lead into what they will be learning and what skills they will be attaining. There are mixed messages. The website is vague as to what you will learn and I had to start hunting around to really find good information. That is how I ended up on YT. I ended up watching almost every video I could before signing up and am now disappointed when I get back to the “real world” and realize how little I know and how I’ve been taught and continue to teach myself bad habits (like no testing).

    Another issue I have is with Demo Day. When you watch the Demo Day videos, you are impressed. “Wow, they built those apps all in a span of 10 weeks!?” That was my thought. However, after getting in the program, the direct message from the staff and instructors was “build a tool that does one thing really well”. And then later they said, “Well…it doesn’t ALL have to work right now – it is just a demo and the demo is just screenshots.”

    It was at that point that I realized that a lot of the Demo Day videos I watched were not what I thought they were…a lot of it was just screenshots and buttons that had no code behind them. I know this because I signed up for MANY of them but the code was never finished. And even in my own quarter, by the end many students just “faked it”. And that’s fine. It’s great for students to learn. But when Code Academy/TSL publishes those videos as marketing material with none of these disclaimers and the viewers don’t know the full story, it becomes deceptive advertising.

    It was a sad day when I realized that not only could I not get a job, I am faaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrr from being employable as a developer. The biggest issue is the testing and OOP. If you walk into an interview not understanding what a “class” is and how classes work together or if you submit a program with no testing, you are not going to get the job and, even worse, there is going to be an awkward pause and the interview is going to be cut short.

    Save your $6,000-$8,000. I think you could learn just as much in TSL as reading a few of the good Ruby books out there.

    Videos that I think should be pulled because they give the wrong impression:
    1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRzgZHn9ix8&list=UUWRIcxp9QWcYNLrzWfrV4Iw
    2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEKCwMdXRns
    3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xct2xzBRXtU&list=UUWRIcxp9QWcYNLrzWfrV4Iw
    4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1HbAhOEQjI&list=UUWRIcxp9QWcYNLrzWfrV4Iw

    Many of the videos under Mike McGee’s username. Those videos seem to give a different viewpoint than what TSL stands for today. Because the marketing message has changed, I think these videos should be pulled.

    I hope the program gets better. There is a magic to it. The instructors are great. The atmosphere is great. The community and students are great.

    The marketing is borderline deceiving.

    • FormerStarter

      I’m glad you posted those videos. When I was considering Code Academy / The Starter League, I watched them too. They influenced my decision.

      We’re definitely focusing on the way Code Academy / Stater League is presented and the expectations they instill into prospective students. I think its very telling that 20 seconds into the first video there are salary numbers being thrown around. Notice the tricky editing that cuts in to Greg Caplan saying “What you’re looking at is [$70,000 to $200,000+ a year]” — I’d consider this the smoking gun when it comes to intentionally deceptive marketing.

      “Hear what Chicago is saying about code academy…”
      “What you’re looking at is probably starting salary around $80,000 — maybe $70,000”

      Of course, maybe half a percent of Starter League alumni go on to make that much money as developer. So, maybe 2 people total. The bottom line is, nobody is getting a position earning half that amount with the skills they learned in Code Academy / Starter League.

      I would be surprised if Starter League didn’t pull those videos — not because they feel its the right thing to do, but because they want to save face. This post is already on Google’s second page. Based on previous experiences, they’re clearly not above censorship.

  • Former Starter Leaguer

    Starter League would have as much success training their students to join the Chicago Bulls…

  • TSLalumFall12

    Alum of RFD and UX here. Had prior front end experience, but not professional, and a tech background, also having worked at several successful startups. RFD was Web Dev in 2 days instead of 3, and my sentiments are close to yours. However, I was employed within 3 weeks of graduating, mostly due to moving home, Christmas, New Years, and moving residences.

    I think there are many good points to the web dev courses; coming out and being ready to be a developer is not one of them. It seems that there is not much support as far as finding a job, but I think they’ve been increasing that support lately.

    Even though there are alternatives, i think its important to contextualize other programs like App Academy and Dev Bootcamp by prefacing admittance to those programs as being extremely difficult because of the pre-camp knowledge you need to cover and the sheer volume of applicants. Most of us would NOT have gotten into those programs – its like saying, “State sounded like a good idea, but I wasn’t able to get a job. Looking back, I would have gone to Harvard.” LOL, keep dreaming…

    The UX course was a mixed bag. Half of the people did not want to be there, did not show up to class, etc. I took this class as seriously as RFD. It was a shame. UX was my golden ticket, and I was easily employed because of my experience for a 50+% gain in pure salary alone, not to mention the freelance gigs that came out of it. My money and 3 month investment has more than paid for itself.

    I couldn’t have done it on my own, so I have to recommend Starter League, but affirming the “your mileage may vary” disclaimer.

    • Thanks! I particularly like that you talk about the UX program, which I have no experience with. Good point about the other schools. I agree, I think the pre-work is an important part of their selection criteria. They are different beasts.

  • We actually just hired a Starter League graduate for an apprentice engineering position, and are pretty pleased with his skill level. While I completely agree that Starter League does not prepare you for a full-blown developer position, I do think that it can position you to enter the job market as an apprentice. With that said, I don’t know how many of those position are available – certainly not as many as there are for seasoned developers.

  • FutureDev

    Someone I know just attended Dev Bootcamp’s most recent cohort – turns out Dev Bootcamp’s numbers are closer to 50% hire (although they keep on using 90%+ in their marketing) and that number may drop even further as the last cohort’s hiring day was abysmal (very few companies showed up).

    • Just a Guy

      Very interesting — I was thinking of applying to dev bootcamp myself, because of the successful hire rate. Would you mind expanding on the virtually 50% drop in success rate? Why aren’t companies hiring dev bootcamp grads anymore? Did the “someone you know” get a job after completing dev bootcamp?

    • Anonymous DevBootcamp Student

      Hi FutureDev — “hiring day” is just an event DevBootcamp hosts to give students the opportunity to mingle and speed date. The real hiring happens after graduation, outside the school. To date, the employment rate (for those looking for jobs post-graduation) is 90%+ within a window of 3 months after graduation.

      • Anonymous

        Dev Bootcamp gets those numbers by anyone who has any job after 3 months, even if it has nothing to do with technology or programming. So they are also students who couldn’t find a programming job and are working somewhere else

  • Lemon

    One of the things that attracts me to the SL is the ability to be able to put in as much time as I want on my own to learn stuff, but also prioritize a bit of freelancing if I need to (I do front end stuff). It’s really hard to get straight answers from anyone about what I should expect though 🙁 I was told straight up that I would not be ready to work as a junior developer after the program (where other bootcamps are pretty much banking on you being ready to hire) so admirable honesty maybe?. I intend to move into a junior developer position. For someone that has solid HTML/CSS skills, and has already worked through the Pine Learn to Program book and Hartl’s Rails Tutorial, would SL be too basic? I’m sure I would learn stuff, but it just seems like an awful lot of money per classroom hour, especially if we are going to spend weeks on basic Ruby. Especially when places like Nashville pay you to learn, App Academy doesn’t charge tuition, Portland refunds you all of your tuition is you get hired at one of their partners and nearly every other bootcamp in the 8k-12k range has 4-5x more classroom hours.

    • If you’ve already worked through Pine’s book and the Rails tutorial, SL would likely be too basic. Again, the program has changed since I’ve gone through it, so it’s important to ask newer graduates and the staff themselves, but you would likely find yourself bored most of the time. If you intend to move into a junior development position, I would recommend another course of action, even learning on your own and finding a ruby user group (http://www.ruby-lang.org/en/community/user-groups/) in your area to go to if you can’t find a code bootcamp that suits your needs.

      By the way, basic ruby is well worth spending a few weeks learning (object oriented programming, test driven development, etc.) if you intend on being a ruby developer 🙂

      PS, for the curious (because I certainly was), the schools that Lemon mentioned:

      – Nashville Software School: nashvillesoftwareschool.com/
      – App Academy: http://www.appacademy.io/#p-home
      – Portland Code School: http://portlandcodeschool.com/program.html

      • Lemon

        Oh! I really want to spend a few months (years?) learning Ruby as language. I just meant if some of the weeks are going to be spent on basic ruby control flow, iterators, blocks/procs, (all things that could definitely be learned in pre-wrok in my opinion) and syntax things that I already have a good handle on, then it seems like even less classroom hours would be useful to me personally. Thanks for this post by the way. It is good to hear some realism among the ultra-hype of bootcamp claims.

    • Starter Alum

      I would agree with Brian. You are going to be bored. I knew hardly any programming going in, but consider myself an intelligent person and I found the class to be too slow.

      A program like Dev Bootcamp, from what I have heard, requires pre-requisite reading before the quarter even starts. Those students know block statements going into the quarter which is mind-boggling because I learned that in week 2 or 3 of TSL.

      Because of this, Dev Bootcamp is by far the better spend even if it is $12k. Try not to focus on the price tag. You are investing in your future.

      You hit the nail on the head when you mention price per classroom hour. This is one reason why TSL doesn’t add up. It’s nice to know TSL is now being honest admitting that you can’t be a junior developer straight out of the program. I would go so far as to say you can’t even be an apprentice.

      Their new-er marketing line is that they teach you to “be a starter”. If that is their claim then I say, “Think of ‘starter’ in the most elementary sense of the word.” You will be a “pre-school” level developer. They give you just a small taste of web development.

      It’s not a bad course, it’s actually quite good. Just not for $6000-8000. In my opinion, now working in the field and well on my way to becoming a developer, the course is worth $1,000-2,000 based on what they are teaching. Of course, this is my estimation based on my level of knowledge now.

      Hashrocket in Chicago has an apprentice program and they won’t take TSL graduates. They want students to have another year of experience before applying. This is one of 5 different programs I applied for and was told this by almost all programs I applied for. Once I did land an internship and spent 3 months doing it, I realized my time at TSL was wasted.

      Brian is right. You are at a stage where you need a mentor and mentors are out there – willing, able and, best of all, free. Developers in the Chicago community love to give back and love to teach. Go to meetups, find someone you click with, ask them to mentor you for a few weeks/months.

      Hmmm….sounds like a good idea for a website.

      I believe in doing it for free though. If anyone is looking for a mentor, is a hard work and wants a chance, I could commit a few hours a week.

      • Lemon

        Thanks for the candid response! I already have a few other bootcamp acceptances and hopefully some more on the way. I think I will plan on going to one that has 400-600 hours of classroom instruction (and pre-work) and has some skin in the game regarding jobs, or at least makes their hiring statistics known. 6 months seems to make more sense and be a more sane working schedule (never been into allnighters) han 3 months, but those are harder to find. (Another one to check out – gSchool guarantees at least a $60k a year junior dev job or they refund all your tuition, 6 months long 9-5ish.). In the meantime, at least for the summer, I’ll keep working through Hartl and maybe try to pick up at least some jQuery. If I’m going to upend my life, move somewhere else (I’m not from Chicago), quit my job, take out a loan, and dive into this thing headfirst, I’d like to at least have a good shot of landing an apprenticeship straight off (and being able to work on a cool MVP). It sounds like TSL would be a great pre-bootcamp bootcamp, a chance to start networking, meet people, get your head wrapped around basic Ruby and Rails concepts, get used to pairing, looking up API documentation, etc and then go do something more intensive. But for another $8k that’s not going to happen…

        • > It sounds like TSL would be a great pre-bootcamp bootcamp, a chance to
          start networking, meet people, get your head wrapped around basic Ruby
          and Rails concepts, get used to pairing, looking up API documentation,
          etc and then go do something more intensive.

          Nail, meet hammer.

      • MRG

        You in Chicago? Might want to take you up on that….

    • In my batch Mike McGee literally told us once that if you know how to do Railstutorial already, Starter League is not for you.

      Last summer, when I did SL, you didn’t even learn TDD which I found a major bummer. I think they added seminars on that since and the new Starter School is going for a 9 month long approach. As far as I can tell they want to become a master program for web dev / front end / bootstrapping, which I think makes much more sense.

      Edit: That said, I did come in having done Pine and Railstutorial already, and I learned some very basic things I did not pick up from those books before. Jeff and Raghu are really great teachers. I just wish SL was a 40 hour per week intensive bootcamp thing.

  • amarales15

    i am mostly disappointed with the fact that Starter League made promises it had no intention or power to keep.

    it was made very clear that there would be an internship opportunity with 37 Signals when in fact that was not the case. A recent posting in the Starter League “alumni” forums indicated that many of us were further tempted to signed up because of the possibility of a 37 Signals internship, only to find out that it seemingly wasn’t a real thing. Nobody actually got an internship. In fact, an employee at 37 Signals and teacher at Starter League explicitly stated that they’ve passed on internships because they’ve never had one before. In that case, why was an internship even being hinted at on the Starter League website?

    • I fell for it too…


      I think you are being too kind with the statement “why was an internship even being hinted at”…

      It was a blatant marketing effort on the part of Starter League and one of the deciding factors for my enrollment. That statement on their website said to me, “TSL is connected to the community. They offer awesome internships. Their students are valued and accepted. Even 37 Signals hires TSL students.”

      This is yet another example of them over-promising and not being able to deliver on their marketing promises.

      So when Mig from 37 Signals publicly stated this to TSL alum questioning the previously-promised internship, I was disheartened but, even more so, enraged:
      “I totally hear you, it’s a bummer that we haven’t
      been able to figure out a great internship program just yet [. . .] Part of why we’ve previously passed on the
      internship is because we’ve never done one before. We’re aware we’re not
      doing a great job working with beginners, nor have we figured out a great
      way to nurture them.”

      I used to think highly of 37 Signals. I no longer do. I viewed the internship as a promise and that promise was not only broken, but when questioned about it, 37 Signals swept it under the rug and offered up only an excuse. Would it kill them to follow through on the commitment?? Is it really that hard? TSL gladly took our money and 37 Signals has a financial investment in TSL so for them to not deliver says a lot to me about what they really think of TSL students. We are only wallets with two feet. I find the whole thing to be despicable.

      I have been neutral up until this point about my TSL education, but having read what went on with the internship has put a bad taste in my mouth. For someone so good at wooing people, I think Neil and Jason own students a public apology and a reassurance that this is being handled. My understanding was one student from every quarter would be hired, so, in that case, they are 3 quarters behind in internships.

  • CA ‘alum’

    Starter League is a complete waste of money if you have no experience and want to get an entry level job after you finish the program. If becoming a professional entry level web developer is your goal, you’re much better off looking at Dev Bootcamp in Chicago, Flatiron School in NYC or gSchool in Denver. Only attend if you’re an MBA student (or similar) who wants to network with the Chicago startup entrepreneur community, chat with VCs, etc.

  • StarterLeagueRegret

    I attended a Dev Bootcamp event recently and got to talk to students and see what they were learning. Wow! Sadly, Dev Bootcamp makes Starter League look like kindergarten. Students coming out of Dev Bootcamp know how to write Javascript (lots of it); they know testing; they know front-end design (lots of it); they are making apps that were way cool (so much cooler than TSL apps); they were working with APIs as just a small part of their work (this is really the majority of what I learned through TSL).

    It ended up being a sad day for me as I realized I wasted my money on TSL.

    I’m excited for Dev Bootcamp. It is a highly disciplined program. You feel it from the moment you walk in the door. You can tell that the instructors are present, invested in students, holding students’ hands and guiding them every step of the way. They have policies there that feel necessary and disciplined – for example, you must be there by 8:00am, no cell phones, no email, no Facebook except during breaks. There is a curriculum you have to learn on your own before showing up. They have challenges and stretch challenges everyday. This all screams “We care and we want you to be the best.”

    A student told me they work excessive hours, coding constantly. Their work ethic is impressive.

    The event was well-organized. Everyone was there participating and talking. I loved every.minute.of.it. It was an intoxicating and addicting environment that made me want to sign up. Sadly, I already have a job and can’t afford another 12k.

    In summary, Dev Bootcamp is all good stuff that is churning out quality students.

  • Chicago Employeer

    I run a startup here in Chicago and have hired several Starter League grads. The outcome was always the same – those who were in the design track were great hires, those in the Rails track were ill prepared for the real world.

    No one can expect to become a competent Rails Dev in 12 weeks.

  • Jonathan

    awesome post, thanks for sharing! would any of the starter league students be interested in posting their comments on here as well? http://www.programmingisnothard.com/topics/starter-league It’s a bootcamp review site designed to help prospective students help figure out which bootcamp to attend and what resources to use. I went through one myself and know that there are a lot of bootcamps out there that are not as good as they advertise!

  • jst

    Great post! I really enjoyed it and very good info for someone who is considering a code school. I would recommend looking into The Iron Yard in SC.

  • anon

    fyi: appacademy.io is not free.
    TLDR: $10-20k like the rest

    They require a deposit, which is put towards their fee, due once employed after successfully completing the program. Working for one of their partner companies generally reduces your total fee. (Loosely: They get a recruiting kickback and incentivize accordingly.)

    Many sources state they get 15%. It went up. At this time, the deposit is $3k, their one time take of your new annual salary is 18%, and the partner kickback is $5k. So, if you land the expected six figure job, at a partner, expect to pay ~$13k. $3k pre-course, the other $10k soon after employment. 100000 * 18% – 5000 = 13000. $18k if you choose to work elsewhere. So, they’re comparable to DBC and the others of perceived similar caliber.

    Also consider living, travel, moving, potential laptop etc practical expenses for any of these programs on top of the straight fees, and the opportunity cost of forgone income as noted.

    –NOT an App Academy or competitor employee or representative at this time. Information based on SF campus. NY may differ. These views are not theirs and and any errors are not their fault. Their amounts and policies subject to change etc. disclaimer etc.

    • Nathan

      Current a/A student here

      All of this information is correct, although I’ll also mention that the SF location is zoned as a living/working space. Typically ~1/3 of current students live here (myself included) which cuts down on the living costs incredibly. While I’d say maybe this makes the space occasionally quite messy (what you would expect from having ~20+ roommates) it has never been completely intolerable, and additional improvements are constantly being added which have been making it nicer and more habitable. Of course if you’re high maintenance you may want to find your own apartment. As far as I know, NYC does not provide accomodations.

      Laptops are optional, and many students here use the machines provided. It may help to have your own machine when you want to take work back home with you, but typically you are spending the entire day on a provided machine in paired programming.

      While comparable to other courses in potential price, a/A has a much higher investment in their students because of their pricing structure. If you decide to pay up front or if youre planning on starting your own business, the cost is $13k/$15k respectively. We are also asked to sign a contract stating that we will be proactive in our job search and if by chance we do not find anything within 6 months/1 year (I forget which) we agree to pay $10k cost (total not including the deposit). So far we are in week 5 now, most of the previous cohort are still searching for jobs, and only 2 people in the cohort before them are unplaced (although honestly one of them is quite strange and seems socially belligerent).

      If anyones interested in learning more I’d be happy to try and answer any questions!

      • iladelf

        A-Ha, so THERE’S the catch! From their website, App Academy makes it sound like that you train with them, owe nothing until you land a job, then they take a “cut” of your first year’s salary at the end (this sounds fair, however…). Further, it also feels like with the “owe nothing” statement, you actually owe a/A nothing if you can’t find a job. BUT…as I’ve seen on here and in various other places, you have to come up with a deposit to begin with, THEN pay another $10k to them if you DON’T find a job in a year. I call BS; and what happens if you wash out mid-flight; I assume the deposit is lost, plus do you owe them anything else?

  • PastStudent

    I must say that I’m surprised to have came across this blog post and see that others share my same sentiment. The thing is, they don’t care to improve their program for students to come out with a solid skill. I realize, what they were really about which is developing the product and not the people. What I mean by that is the marketing that goes behind it give much more attention than making sure that they are delivering quality service to the students that have paid their money. I myself is a self-taught and thought that Starter League would help accelerate learning programming. But it was such a waste of money. I went to their Javascript, and oh my god, their were so many students struggling to include myself. He would give out homework but after students make attempts after a week he wouldn’t give the students the answers. He would say google it or ask mentor. In which not everyone has a mentor. What is the point of spending money? I was very frustrated. Speaking of mentors, they need a better mentor program or take it more seriously. Ive noticed that there are some mentors that are really good and committed but there are other mentors that don’t take their mentees serious by blowing of scheduled appointments. There were times where I was completely ignored by the staff of starter league. I filled out their survey in which they asked if you wanted to speak with one of the staff members and I checked yes but noone got back with me. That was like the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.

  • Curtis

    Great post! This kind of confirmed my feelings towards the program. I remember when I first heard about them back in 2011, and the price tag ($6k) was just outrageous to me; But since I had prior experience in development (I learned C at the age of 12, purely out of interest) I just ended up dedicating 3 months of 10a-9p M-F at a coffee shop, playing around with Ruby at first, then progressing into Rails. It took me a while since it was the first time messing with programming in around 7 or 8 years. Of course I had a few items to help streamline the process, a book: “Agile Web Development with Rails”, and a subscription to code school (They have a free “Rails for zombies” lesson which does a decent job of going over the basics).

    Three months later I landed a paid internship job at a startup in Chicago, and 6 months after that I landed a full stack position at a flight school in Florida. To me, paying $6k is unthinkable. Anyone can spend money, but you definitely know someone is motivated if they put in the effort for learn on their own.

    • AnK

      did u have some previous experience with coding?
      thank u

      • Curtis

        Yes, I learned vb at age 11, then moved to C (and perl) by age 12. I did little projects until I was about 17 then I pretty much stopped doing any development until age 25 when I picked up ruby.

  • Hi, is this for the chicago starter league????

    • Yes, it was written about the program in 2012, however, so it might have changed since then.

      • Damien

        I assure you, it hasn’t changed. The web development teachers have never even worked professionally in the field.

      • Hey Brian and Damien — Just scouting out potential prospects to see where to become a UX instructor. I’m curious to see what kind of foundation they’ve build / relationships they’ve created for their former students.

        Are there any institutions/schools that you guys would recommend?

        • I don’t know about quality, but Chicago has The Designation: http://designation.io/

          Otherwise, I’ve been seriously out of touch with the developer bootcamp scene, much less UX, so I won’t be much help in this arena.

  • Viva

    I was considering going to Chicago for three months to do their Web Dev course. Does any one else who attended the Starter League fairly recently share the same thoughts?

    In order for me to join their program I’d have to put my life on hold in Minneapolis and would be living apart from my wife. So this is “sort” of a big deal for me. Thanks in advance.

    • Maestro

      No. Choose a different boot camp. It has not gotten better.