A tale of two Silicon Valley experiences

This post is twofold. First up will be my long overdue review of Hack Reactor, and after that I'll share a few of the many lessons I learned while hunting for a job in Silicon Valley.

Was Hack Reactor worth it?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: For me, yes, it turned out to be worth it. What Hack Reactor promises, it delivers. When I speak of promises, I'm referring to the fine print of the student agreement, in which you pay $17,780 in exchange for a crash course in JavaScript plus job search training.

On both points, Hack Reactor absolutely excels. The software development curriculum is top-notch. I learned so much and so quickly that it felt like I was downloading information into my brain, which was pretty awesome.

How does Hack Reactor help people to learn so quickly? Different people will give different answers to this question. Some might say the lectures. Others might say the projects. For me, the crucial part of the learning experience was, unquestionably, the opportunity to interact with my remarkable classmates. My cohort was full of kind, brilliant people who encouraged and inspired me to be a better programmer. I learned a ton from working through problems with them, both in my pair programming assignments and in my group projects.

Because of my classmates, the 700-plus hours I spent in that concrete tower with the broken elevators at the southeast corner of the Tenderloin were not just tolerable. They were fun.

People often question the hiring statistics on the Hack Reactor website. I don't blame them; it seems ludicrous to suggest that fledgling programmers with no CS background or prior work experience could land six-figure salaries after three months at a for-profit bootcamp.

Now that I'm on the other side, it all makes sense. Most Hack Reactor grads end up in the Bay Area, which is flush with tech jobs and where the average going rate for software engineers is on the lower end of six figures. Hack Reactor also expends great effort on crafting and culling their student body. The program selects for students who have already demonstrated a certain level of proficiency in coding and trains those students in strictly practical matters: full-stack JavaScript, MVC frameworks, databases, version control, and those pesky algorithms questions that come up in technical interviews. We did toy problems, whiteboarding sessions, and mock interviews, all of which proved useful during my job search.

Hack Reactor also trained us to treat job searching as a job in itself, and to take it seriously, but not personally. We were encouraged to apply to five jobs every day and keep up with our toy problems.

I confess I did neither of those. But I did apply to 50+ companies total, and there was a memorable two-week period during which I had onsite interviews nearly every day. After a while, I finally understood what people mean when they say job searching is a numbers game.

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