What I Would Have Done Differently – [Redacted] Academy

I started this post so many times I’ve lost count. My first attempt at writing this was angry, but I didn’t think that was productive. The next attempt came out really sad, but I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. The last draft was bitter and my point was lost, even on myself. So, this time I am just going to start typing, and whatever comes out is what will be.

If you’ve been following my blog then you know I struggled with [Redacted] from day one; but I always hoped beyond hope that it would improve, and fulfill their promises, but… they never did.

I tried my best to be constructive, rational, honest, and I tried not to focus on negative, because I truly wanted [Redacted] to be everything they said it would be.

But it didn’t matter…

I don’t regret blogging about [Redacted] , but blogging publicly had real side effects; I was ignored by most of the instructors, I was told that I wasn’t going to make it (more than once), I was basically shunned. I have never felt so alone in my life.

Why did I stay? Because I wanted to be a software developer, plain and simple.

I am angry. I moved out of my house and away from my husband and two kids for [Redacted], saved and then spent $15,000 of our hard earned money for [Redacted] , and I postponed an amazing job for [Redacted] . But [Redacted]  doesn’t seem to give a shit about any of this, or about many students at all. Their ethos of community and a commitment to making great female developers, slowly disappeared once they had our money… and it was no small amount. Our class of 28 women earned [Redacted] $420,000 in tuition, for just 10-12 weeks of work. But there were so many problems and too many empty promises…

I could tell you about the fact that not one instructor looked at my project until the last week and even then it was only once.

I could tell you about how I almost didn’t attend career day because my project wasn’t complete, and I felt encouraged by the staff not to attend.

I could tell you about the student who didn’t go to career day because no instructors had looked at a single line of code from her project either; and how she never came back (and [Redacted] hasn’t bothered to contact her at all, in the month since then).

I could tell you about how in the final weeks, the instructors were more focused on securing students for the next cohort, than they were about us.

I could tell you about the many companies I spoke to after career day that outright admitted they won’t hire from [Redacted]  because it “isn’t producing good engineers”. However, they still attend [Redacted] events because “showing up at events supporting women in tech is great for social media and our company”.

I could tell you about how I learned more in one afternoon at Zed Shaw’s office, than I did in my entire 3 months at [Redacted].

I could tell you how much I worry about the amazing women in my [Redacted] class, who are finding it extremely difficult getting a job right now, because of [Redacted] ‘s shoddy teaching and exaggerated promises of employment.

But if I told you about all of those things it might depress you. It depresses me, and lots of other girls from my class.

What I can tell you, is how lucky I feel to have a job, an amazing job. But I should also tell you that [Redacted] had nothing to do with it

I’ve been in the tech industry for 15 years, as a wife and as a contributor. I went into [Redacted] knowing what the industry looks for; I already had the connections, and I knew how be successful, but I didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t believe I could do it on my own, I wanted structure, a clear curriculum, and good teachers. I didn’t get those things from [Redacted]  but what I did get is the knowledge that I’m capable of doing really these complex things, on my own. And that’s what life after [Redacted]  has been like for me, a process of teaching myself all the things I need to be successful at my new job. And the things that my job requires, are things that [Redacted]  never touched.

[Redacted] doesn’t teach modern software development — contributing to open source projects, Git, Gerrit, Jenkins, CI, networking in the real world outside of the (very stacked and insulated) [Redacted] network, testing… and many more very basic skills that a new developer should know, or at least be aware of.

During one of many heart-to-heart conversations with [Redacted] staff, I was told, “Well, Ashley, what you’re really paying for isn’t the class, it’s access to the [Redacted]  community” . First, this is bullshit, I was primarily there for the classes. Second, c’mon people… community is free, it doesn’t cost $15,000! And the real tech community is so much bigger and badder than the little networking bubble that [Redacted]  tries to keep students in. It’s also worth noting here that [Redacted] has a number of partner companies, which it heavily favors and evangelizes for. When projects were deployed, [Redacted]  would only give directions on how to deploy to Heroku (a partner company), even though many student’s projects were non-deployable through Heroku, and we asked repeatedly for a class on AWS deployment. We were told AWS was “too complicated” for us to understand, and that was the end of it; Heroku or nothing. There are many instances like this.

If I could do it over again I would be a major contributor to OpenStack and OpenShift (to name a just a few). I would get active in the real tech community, and regularly attend events from PyLadies, Women Who Code, and Girl Geek Dinners. I would attend as many hackathons as possible, as so many are open to beginners. I would try to create lasting relationships with the people I met at these events, and I would try building a resume through all these efforts. And instead of paying $15k for access to a network, I would ask industry experts to mentor me, because you can totally do that — there are so many developers out there who want to help you. But I didn’t do any of these things… because I put all of my hope and trust and money, into [Redacted]. So I am telling YOU to do all of these things, because you can totally do them, and do it for free.

Maybe you don’t know about the many resources available to you, or maybe you feel like I did and are embarrassed to attend events because your feel like you aren’t qualified enough to… but wanting to learn and wanting to be part of the community is enough; in fact it’s just the ticket you need to get in the door. There is a huge range of skill at hackathaons and meet-ups; you don’t need to be an expert to participate – everyone is there to learn, just like you.

Maybe you like the idea of [Redacted] because you just don’t know where to start? You can start now. [Redacted]  tells students to prepare by working through Learn Python The Hard Way, which you can start right now, for free. You can email questions (big or small) to Zed Shaw and he will always write back to you with an answer. The first half of [Redacted]  is working through Learn Python The Hard Way, and browsing through RegExOne and SQLzoo — so there you go, you can have the first half of [Redacted] right now if you want it.

Maybe you don’t think you can just ask someone you admire in tech to be your mentor? That’s crazy! But I am here to tell you that it’s not crazy. I have 4 mentors, one that [Redacted] gave me and 3 others that I asked to mentor me. None of them have ever said no when I asked for help.

Maybe you are afraid that without [Redacted] no one will take you seriously? Sadly, i’ve gotten more people questioning why I would advertise a bootcamp on my resume, instead of filling it with meaningful projects.

In the end, had I believed in myself more I would have been so much closer to becoming a serious developer. But I worked my ass off, with what I was given, and I feel good about what i’ve accomplished (especially in the face of all the opposition and ostracization, within [Redacted]).

The question I get most is, “Was it worth it”? It’s a tough question to answer, but if it was worth anything, it’s because I made it worth something.

But I’m not done blogging and I’m not done with my quest to become a software developer, I’m just getting started.

My goal is to keep those of you who are also on this quest, informed about what’s going on in the community and about my own projects.

I am happy to close the [Redacted] chapter, and move on to better things. If you have questions I am more than happy to answer them in the comments.


  • Paul Applegate

    Wow. What an eye opening experience. I have to say I’m glad you made the best of it. I was following your tweets and had a feeling things were going well enough. It’s a shame after reading this to find out you were miserable.
    I doubt Hackbright will change, but I can only hope. At least you pointed to alternatives women can use in place of spending money on what seems like a scam.

  • Matt Brender (@mjbrender)

    You’re an amazing woman Ashley – that’s the first thing that comes to mind here. The second is how much of a disservice we do to ourselves thinking that a product like Hackbright or any other will be the difference between being a Developer or not being one.

    I have a CS degree and have not once felt like a developer in the last 6 years of holding it. Everyday I spend on GitHub and everyday I see failures in my terminal window is another day closer to claiming that title.

    The same goes for all of us. Being a Developer is a choice and a practice, not a title.

  • Michelle Glauser

    Ashley, I’m so sorry to hear that you had a bad experience! I did Hackbright, and there were times when I felt frustrated that others were better able to monopolize instructors during the project weeks, but other than that, I felt that the experience gave me the good basis I needed. I attended events and networked the entire time and tried the technologies I wanted to try during my project, but I was (and am) very much a beginner and needed the stuff that was offered and realized that I needed to ask, ask, ask, to get the rest. It sounds like you already had a lot of knowledge under your belt, so I’m glad you were able to make something of the time so that it’s not a complete loss. Props to you for being open. I hope that everything gets better and better from here on out!

  • James OKelly (thatrubylove)

    Sounds like the Art Institute. For what it is worth. I teach REAL web development and programming in Ruby, and I don’t charge for my Sunday sessions on google hangouts. I also teach @ Bloc.io – and I cannot speak for other mentors, but my students are well prepared in testing, ruby, sql, javascript, and html/css. I put my name on it.

    Also, someone who has talked with Zed back in his Ruby days, and him being a common friend of many of my friends, I am not surprised one bit. I would take 1 Zed Shaw for 20 universities, be they old ivies or new age online.

    This kind of sick, predatory corporate suckling of your money for nada is not my idea of good business. That is why I don’t reside in the USA any more.

  • Emma Lindsay

    Breaking into programming is difficult. I think many of the problems you list aren’t really problems with hackbright, but problems working in a fast paced and constantly changing industry.

    I got my degree in computer science from MIT in 2007. It took me 4 years, cost a lot more than 15,000, and I still didn’t come out knowing all – or even most – of the things I needed to know in industry. This is really normal. Ultimately, you have to learn how to teach yourself. There’s no way around it. That’s why stack overflow exists. You have to have the confidence to be given a problem you can’t solve, you’ll eventually figure out how. You get this faith by solving problems you didn’t think you were able to solve, over and over again.

    You can get this confidence in a class, an internship, or many other ways. You certainly don’t have to take a class, but it works for some people, and if you’re one of those people I think it could be worth the money. But, when you’re done, you’ll still feel a little bit lost. In fact, if you stop feeling lost, I think it’s a bad sign. It means you’re not learning anymore. No one is ever a full master in an industry as dynamic as this.

  • Ava St. John

    I second what Michelle and Emma said. I do hope you are happy at your new job, and it sounds like you are. In the meantime, I feel compelled to defend the brilliant and caring women who make up this community of Hackbright alums and whom some of your readers seem to have dismissed based on your post. I wrote a blog post about my experience and what qualities I think made my classmates and me successful during and after Hackbright. You can veiw my post here: http://avagoestohackbright.blogspot.com/2014/05/hackbright-alums-superwomen-of-tech-and.html

  • Cynthia

    Your post (and Erica Joy’s) are really informative. It was interesting to hear a different perspective compared to all the other Hackbright Alum blogs I’ve read so far.

    Is there any additional resources you endorse? Also, do you think it’s possible to bootstrap an entry level developer position from online resources and networking events like the ones you’ve mentioned? (Especially for those of us who aren’t from the Bay/Valley area.)

  • Tina

    Thanks for the insightful post. HB is doing a real disservice to earnest women spending thousands of dollars in hopes of a career transition. Props to the commenter above for pointing me towards http://www.ericabaker.com. Between her post, and yours, I’ve come to the conclusion HB does not seem to be delivering what it is promising. I have my first interview soon, and was stressing about it. I think I’m just going to cancel it now.

  • Trevor Roberts Jr

    Brava, Ashley for sticking it out. I was wondering why Zed was going off on Hackbright a couple months ago, and now I understand why!

    At first, I was against the CA lawmakers trying to regulate establishments like these, but if it ever comes up for referendum, I’ll vote accordingly.

    Congrats on your new work and developing yourself in spite of the program’s serious deficiencies.

  • A Potential Hackbright Student

    Hi Ashley,

    Thank you for your honest post. I have been looking into development bootcamps, and almost all the reviews I find 100% positive. I suspect this has to do with the fact that few students are willing to criticize their instructors who are supposed to help them get jobs.

    As I do my research and consider attending a bootcamp, I would like to ask you a question. Do you feel that the problems you encountered were specific to {Redacted}, or do you think it is a problem with most bootcamps? I know you did not get to try other bootcamps, but I would love to hear your thoughts. You mentioned you had connections in the tech community – is the sentiment that they don’t hire from {Redacted} just because they are a bootcamp, or because this particular bootcamp doesn’t train well?

    Thank you,
    An aspiring developer

  • Violet Siegius

    Thanks so much for sharing! It makes me happy to know that someone like you had the courage to speak out about their experience at this particular coding bootcamp. I was actually considering [Redacted] but I’m so glad I didn’t move forward with the admissions process looking back at it. The founder who interviewed was just not friendly and a red light went off. So I’m glad my suspicions were kind of confirmed here, 2 years later. Again, thank you so much for sharing.

  • Taryn

    I think it’s important to post honest reviews to balance out all of the promotional hype that different schools have their students produce. I went to a bootcamp (which I blogged about: http://girlwritingcode.com/2015/02/coder-camps-houston-looking-back-in-review/) and I felt somewhat similarly to what you described here–what I was sold, and what I actually received differed greatly. I’m now searching for supplemental educational experiences to round out my learning. That said, I’m planning to write a post very much like this one… What I would do differently if I were starting again. Hopefully, if enough people tell their stories, things will turn around.

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  • Laurie Malau

    Hi, Ashley. I’ve been researching for bootcamps and came across your blog post when I googled this Academy (not sure if you allow me to say the name here). It concerned me that you mentioned how a staff said that it was more useful for the community instead of the classes.
    Do you think future applicants should still consider this Academy? Do you know if they have improved since your time there?
    Thank you for your time, I look forward to your reply.

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