Chapter 4: Application & Interview Process
The application and interview
Much like getting a job, most bootcamps have an application and interview process before they’ll accept you. Applications are usually pretty straight forward: fill out basic information about yourself and answer a few open-ended questions. Some bootcamps require you to submit a coding challenge before you can access the application, others will provide a coding assignment which you’ll be required to walk through as part of your interview, and some don’t require pre-existing coding knowledge at all, choosing instead to assess a candidate based on their potential aptitude for code.
Most interviews are performed via video calls on services like Skype, Google Hangouts, or GoToMeeting. Interview formats differ dramatically depending from program to program, but you will likely be assessed on cultural fit, personality/learning traits and current skill level. During the interview, make sure you ask about the bootcamp’s acceptance criteria. Their answer will tell you a lot about whether they are a good fit for you. If you’re interviewing with multiple bootcamps, it’s useful to compare notes.
Always check the Q&A section of the bootcamp’s website prior to the interview. You don’t want to ask questions that you could have found answers to with a little research, since that will signal you’re likely not a student that will be an independent problem solver. Go in prepared, maybe even over-prepared, and ready to conquer.
Be ready to answer questions about why you want to attend that specific program and why you’re interested in learning to code. Don’t get overwhelmed. You’re prepared, remember? Take your time and provide a mindful and complete answer. Your interviewer appreciates thoughtfulness, not record-setting answer time. You might also be given the opportunity to teach your interviewer something that you’re passionate about. It doesn’t have to be a technical subject—it can literally be about anything. They just want to get to know you, and the best way to do that is to hear what you care about. It’ll also give them insight into your personality and collaboration skills.
Some bootcamps may also engage you in a logic question or two to assess your critical thinking skills. The goal isn’t for you to solve the problem without their assistance, but rather to get a sense of how you approach a difficult problem and how well you can collaborate with others to find a solution. Be sure to think out loud and approach the problem with curiosity rather than frustration. This tactic will provide the interviewer with a preview of the type of student you’ll be in the cohort and how you would work with fellow developers.
Questions you should ask
Interviews are a two-way street. They are as much a chance for the bootcamp to assess you as they are a chance for you to assess the bootcamp. Come to the interview with a set of prepared questions that came up during your research process. Spend time prior to the interview creating questions based off of information from the bootcamp’s website.
Example questions to consider asking include things specific to the bootcamp’s published curriculum, a recent story they have posted to their blog, and questions about specific teachers on the team section of their site. It’s important to understand the culture of a program to assess your personal fit. Be sure to ask about their mission and their culture, too
Here are a few additional questions to consider asking during your interview:
- How active are alumni with your program once they’ve graduated? And how are they involved?
- Why did you decide to work for this bootcamp?
- How much time should I expect to spend with instructors? Please walk me through the process in which I gain access to instructor help. What was your student-to-teacher ratio during your last cohort? Are your instructors part-time contractors or full-time employees?
- What are examples of projects that alumni have created through the program? How have those influenced their job outcomes after the program?
- How often do you adjust your curriculum?
- What is your process for receiving student feedback and how do you adjust to that feedback?
What are bootcamps looking for in a student?
Bootcamp students come from all different backgrounds and with a wide array of prior career paths including CFOs, bartenders, computer science students (yes, really—most CS programs don’t teach many practical coding skills), musicians, librarians and many more. They’re men and women of all different ages and cultural backgrounds. Diverse backgrounds bring diverse perspectives, and those perspectives are invaluable in a group learning environment. When it comes time to go looking for jobs, your background is only going to help you. Yep—companies value diverse skillsets for the same reasons bootcamps do. If you’ve got a cool story to tell, that’s only going to help you.
You’ve gotta be able to learn fast while you’re studying at a bootcamp. 8-12 weeks is a flash in the pan, so bootcamps need to make sure that you can keep up with the pace of learning they expect. Most programs have a preferred method of assessing learning velocity. For example, some programs provide students with learning material upon completion of their application that must be understood prior to the interview. During the interview, you might be expected to teach your interviewer that material. It might be trite to use an Einstein quote, but we’re gonna do it anyway: “If you can’t explain a concept simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” If you’ve been able to fully understand the pre-interview material, it shows the interviewer that you’re ready for the pace of learning you’ll have to have for the bootcamp.
Personality is equally important. Bootcamps are seeking to enroll students who are passionate about learning the craft of web development. They want to meet people who are ready to be lifelong learners and are excited to have a skill set that is always expanding. Learning to code isn’t like learning to tie your shoes: it can’t ever be mastered. The world of technology is constantly producing new information and developers have to be prepared to adapt along with it.
Programmers are a diverse bunch, but they all share one thing in common: an inherent need to learn. They are intellectually curious, ready to succeed, highly motivated, and ready to kick any obstacle they face, in the face. To be successful you will need to possess drive and perseverance. Those that tend to get frustrated and shut down when faced with a challenge will probably not find their home in a bootcamp.
Every bootcamp shares the goal of teaching you how to code quickly. But that’s where the similarities end. Every bootcamp has cultivated a unique culture (whether intentionally or not). Bootcamps are looking for students that are a good cultural fit so that you have the best chance of succeeding. Don’t worry about this too much, since chances are you’re interested in the bootcamps that you already know will be a good cultural fit.
Bootcamps create a welcoming environment that fosters collaboration. Being personable and willing to work with others will take you a lot further than just being super smart (this is true in life as well, but that’s slightly out of the scope of this guide). The bootcamp’s classrooms will become your second home, and the people in it will become your close friends. For this reason, culture is key to the success of not only individual students but an entire cohort itself. Every cohort is bound to have its own unique culture, but the values and mission of the bootcamp should remain the same and serve as a beacon for each cohort.