Life at a Programming Bootcamp: Video Interview Series

Life at a programming bootcamp is probably still shrouded in mystery, despite the amount of reviews on the web, and even a recent time lapse courtesy of one innovative Hack Reactor student. Not many people know what it's like to be fully immersed in coding, 10-12 hours per day, months at a time. The dedication it takes is obvious, but the sacrifice it takes is solely individual. A few days ago we received an email from an applicant who wrote the following:

"...I've viewed all twelve podcasts in Jayce Broda's series 'Life at a Hacker School - Hack Reactor' featuring your alumni Mark Rossetti. I found it very inspiring and informative, and Mark is truly a passionate and levelheaded young man. The podcasts fired me up even more to succeed with your program."

We've revisited this terrific video podcast between Rossetti and Broda (their entire series of episodes is truly awesome) in which they explore life at a programming bootcamp. This video is from Mark's first week, but you can find the entire playlist of weeks 1-12 here.

Life at a Programming Bootcamp

If you're not able to watch the entire 20 minute video, below are the highlights from Mark's interview. (Mins 1-5 are introductions, a recap of Mark's background, and the decision making process he undertook before joining our school).

Editor's note, Hack Reactor was called Catalyst at the time of this video's production. 

Mark, 7:52: Catalyst really pushes me to the limit of what I can do. It's a really fine balance between teaching you as much as you can learn in that amount of time, and not stressing you out. It's been outstanding. It's incredible. On day three we built a basic clone of Twitter.

We'd worked on this code all day, me and my partner, and at the end of the day there were some features we had set out to do in the morning that we didn't get to at night. I felt really frustrated, and I thought, 'God why didn't those other features work. We ran out of time.' And I went to dinner that night and that gave me a moment to reflect and I thought, 'Wait a minute, this is day three. And I just built this working web application that did something comparable to this multi-million dollar company.'

Mark, 9:00: You're going to sit with code all day, and you're also going to workout - we workout for an hour every day. You have to eat, you take solid breaks for good amounts of time. You have to manage your lifestyle.

Mark: 9:55: It's a 12 week program, 6 days a week 11 hours a day. The idea is to teach you a handful of the core languages and tools of the web. Among those are HTML, CSS3, JavaScript, Node, that at the end of 12 weeks you can come out and have a good handle on how to build any web applications.

Mark, 10:38: There's relatively little lecture time. We take 45 minutes in the morning and a little bit in the afternoon right after lunch. Those are our guiding lectures assignments, so they introduce a new concept and then there's a real world project to execute that concept. Then we have a nightly lecture on advanced computer science topics...three quarters of the day is coding, and just getting your head into the material and teachers are walking around and you can pull someone over and say, 'Hey, I didn't get this.'

Mark, 12:58:

One of the teachers said something to the effect that in the 18 months after Catalyst when you're actually working at a company, you will have plenty of time to engage in those (computer theory/CS) concepts and learn them in the real world as they become relevant and applicable. So to a certain extent, you can kind of backfill the things you missed (from not taking CS classes) once you're in a real world environment.

Mark, 14:15: I think there's a great diversity of people that can fit into this (type of educational program). A good litmus test is to play with some of the stuff that's out there, with the free courses, and if you take a bunch of Code Academy stuff and find that you are neither bored or want to run away, then maybe this is for you.

Mark's Background

Mark had an interesting background for a person who decided to delve into programming. He was always interested in computers, but it wasn't something he officially studied. Mark double majored in psychology and theology, which is as far from tech as you can get.

After spending time with a startup in China for two years, Mark returned to the U.S. and thought about what career path he should take. The technical job postings interested him the most.  Halfway through applying for CS degree courses, a friend emailed him a link and suggested he try an immersive coding school.

After talking with many engineers, Mark kept hearing the same piece of advice: "Start coding! Forget the theory, and learn the application." Then Mark went to a grad school professor of computer science. What he heard about their curriculum wasn't very inspiring, nor did it align with the unanimous advice he had received from those already in the field.

"I had been toying around with Code AcademyUdacityCourseraCode School. All of them talk about popular code libraries out there that let you do things quickly with programming. Or workflow things. Or - everybody uses GitHub - all these programs and ecosystem things. I listed off three or four of those to a grad school engineering professor, and she said, 'No, we don't cover those things at all.' I was shocked. How are your graduates supposed to get jobs?"

Have Questions About Life at a Programming Bootcamp?

Our programming bootcamp founders, instructors, alumni and Hackers in Residence are more than happy to respond to your emails. You can send in your questions to or get at us on Twitter @HackReactor.

As always, thanks for reading!