Part I: What’s a Coding Bootcamp? App Academy vs. Hack Reactor

App Academy vs Hack Reactor

Update (12/6/2016) - After 2 years of working in software engineering, I decided to start a podcast called Breaking Into Startups where we interview top bootcamp founder and alumni who broke into software engineering. Check it out!

Today is a very SPECIAL day. After months of anticipation, my twin brother Timur, left Atlanta to move to California to attend App Academy, one of the top coding bootcamps in San Francisco. Over last year, we have spent most of our free time learning how to code in two different programming languages, Ruby and JavaScript. I plan to cover the topic of various languages in a future post, but for now I want to keep the focus limited to how we came to a decision to attend App Academy and Hack Reactor.

What is a Coding Bootcamp?

Before I dive into the similarities and differences between various bootcamps, I want to explain what a coding bootcamp is. In recent years, there has been a growing demand for web and mobile developers due to the growing number of smart phone users who are consuming an astonishing amount of content right from their devices. Because every year or so, there are significant updates to the operating systems, all the apps and websites need to be rebuilt from scratch (just think about the number of times you had to update your web browser or your mobile apps in the last year). In addition, if you take a multi-platform service like Netflix, which needs to have a separate team to upkeep their website, iPhone, iPad and an Android app, you begin to see the magnitude of the problem.

Since there is a lot of demand for people with programming skills and an increasing lack of supply, this is where coding bootcamps come in. During 9-12 week programs, the students are fully immersed in the software development process, learning an array of relevant methodologies and tools to build modern applications. Compared to a traditional CS degree where the emphasis is on computer science fundamentals, the bootcamp students gain exposure to the latest, most impactful technologies that are currently in use.

App Academy

Established in 2012, App Academy is similar to Hack Reactor in that in a short period of time, it’s students pick up essential programming skills to become proficient software engineers. They have two campuses in San Francisco and New York and claim a 98% success rate at placing candidates at start-ups with average salary of $100,000.

The one feature that differentiates App Academy from other bootcamps is its “No Job, No Pay” deal. In short, you don’t have to pay for the bootcamp upfront. You only pay a percentage of your first year salary (currently 18%), AFTER they help you find a job. The basic premise here is that App Academy takes a gamble on you and has a great incentive to make you the most marketable job candidate in 9 weeks. This sounds amazing, however, the application process is grueling. My brother had several rounds of phone screens with behavioral and technical components and a final Skype interview with the founder of App Academy. (For full disclosure, I’ve never applied to App Academy and am only speaking from comparing my brother’s experience applying to App Academy with my interview process with Hack Reactor. If you are interested to learn more about my brother’s application process check out his blog here.) That’s not to say that Hack Reactor isn’t challenging to get into but in my personal opinion, App Academy cares a LOT about the candidate’s background and the ability to pick up the required skillset in 9 short weeks. I think what set my brother apart from other candidates was that he was already doing project management and working as a SCRUM master in iOS development for, so his learning curve would have been less steep than someone coming form an unrelated field.

Another notable difference between App Academy and Hack Reactor is the programming language. Although both schools teach full-stack development, App Academy spends more time teaching Ruby, which is more of a back-end language, whereas, Hack Reactor is focused on JavaScript, which is extensively used on both the front and back end. (If you don’t know what full-stack means or what the difference between Front-End and Back-End is don’t worry, I will cover it in my next post). The good news is that there is insatiable demand for programmers of both languages, so if you don’t have a strong preference yet, my advice is to just pick one and stick with it.

Why I chose Hack Reactor

To be completely honest, I didn’t learn about Hack Reactor and its emphasis on JavaScript until several weeks into my Intro to Ruby course on What jumped at me right away was the astonishing statistics that Hack Reactor publishes on their website like the 99% graduate hiring rate, $105,000 average starting salary and world class instructors among others. I was skeptical at first so I began to do my own research to dig up reviews on Quora, Yelp, Reddit and students’ personal blogs. To my amazement, there were 69 five-star reviews out 71 total on Yelp and countless Quora posts praising Hack Reactor instructors and teaching methodology. This was impressive but I still had my doubts. After spending an hour going through LinkedIn profiles of Hack Reactor graduates, I was amazed to find that they were all working for the top Silicon Valley firms like SalesForce, Google, Twitter, Groupon, Asana, Yammer and AutoDesk, to name a few.

After reading about the Hack Reactor curriculum and the different stages of the program, it became apparent how it's able to produce such unparalleled results. First, most coding bootcamps last 5 days a week for 9 weeks, whereas, students at Hack Reactor are there for 12 weeks, 6 days a week, 11 hours a day. That’s more than 30% more instruction time! Secondly, the way the course is broken up is the first 6 weeks are lecture based and in the last 6 weeks, students get to implement what they learned by working with actual start-ups. This work experience not only helps students to build a portfolio of projects that they can discuss in their job interviews, but also gives them an opportunity to figure out what they want to do after graduation by getting exposure to the start-up environment.

Lastly, JavaScript has surpassed other programming languages as the most popular language for web development because of the flexibility and ease with which it takes to create beautifully interactive websites. Today, there are tons of new frameworks and tools build on top of JavaScript like Node.js, that give website creators full control over the creation process. Since most website and web apps are being build using JavaScript, this means that going forward this skillset is only going to become more valuable.

(If you are interested in learning more about my application process to Hack Reactor, you can find it here.)

Where is Part II?

You can find Part II here documenting how we went through our coding bootcamps and navigated the job search.

For those of you learning how to code, I put together a curated list of resources that I used to learn how to code which can be found at

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