Choosing a Programming Bootcamp: App Academy vs Hack Reactor (2/3)

Hack Reactor

This post is a continuation of my series on choosing a programming bootcamp. You can read part 1 here.

App Academy

I should make one thing clear that ended up being pivotal in my decision process. I didn't know just how much I would end up paying for the program. Obviously, I knew that the main selling point is that AA doesn't take a regular tuition, but rather, 18% of your first year salary. However, there is a second, lesser-known option. You see, should you happen to found your own startup, or end up with ownership of a company, you pay a flat rate rather than a percentage. App Academy doesn't publish this rate, and reports I've read on various blogs and bootcamp comparison sites put it at around $10,000 - $12,000. I thought that I might go back to my current job (consulting, remember) and pay the flat fee instead, which would end up being cheaper.


The first step was to fill out the online application. Right away, I was excited to find this:

AA app

I selected the second option and filled out the rest of the form. All in all, it's a rather extensive profile of your educational and employment history. There's even a field for your college GPA and SAT scores (!). Well, this was my chance to shine, so I wrote something about my plans to make the world a better place and sent the application on its way.

The same day, I got a response: I needed to complete a coding challenge. There were some prep materials, helpfully hosted on GitHub, so I decided to tackle those first. These were entry-level Ruby problems of the same type that one might find in the easier sections of Coderbyte or Codewars; think solvable in <10 lines. I was in my element, having spent the last couple of months studying Ruby, so I finished these and decided to tackle the first test.

I clicked on the link, confirmed my intentions, and was presented with 3 questions and 45 minutes to solve them. Although that may seem like a lot of time, these were slightly more difficult than the prep work, and I was nervous, so I took the full 45 minutes to solve them and hit submit. I'm sure there were more succint ways to solve these problems, but I got the right output in my interpreter, so I was pretty content with the result.

First interview

The next day, I got an invite to do the first Skype challenge and a link to more prep work. I dropped some slots on AA's calendar and tackled the prework in the meantime. This was definitely more difficult than the first round, and involved some problems that had me pulling out my hair for a while. Thankfully, the solutions are provided, so you can always take a peek if you get stuck.

Nevertheless, I felt ready for the next interview. I joined the Skype call, and was presented with the problem right away. I definitely felt my heart rate rising; the problem was far from trivial. I took maybe 10 minutes to remember a key method and put together some code that I was sure would do the trick. However, all I had was a text editor, and there was no way to run it. My interviewer started picking out the flaws right away. Without going into too much detail, my algorithm omitted a rather fundamental part of the problem, and there were a few logical errors to boot. I fixed everything I was called out on, and found a couple of other mistakes in the process.

Finally, the code was correct, and I thought that this would put me out of my misery. To my surprise, I was asked what I thought the code would output. This completely stumped me - we're talking a loop with a triple digit number of iterations, and I was supposed to run it in my head. Eventually, the interviewer was kind enough to spoon feed me a few hints, and I stumbled onto the pattern that was the answer. With little feedback, or fanfare, we ended the call. My thoughts at the time: I just blew it.

You can only imagine my surprise when I received the follow-up e-mail: I was invited to another interview, this time, with the founder himself. I eagerly scheduled the call and did a few more challenge problems, just in case.

Second interview

Just like the first interview, we jumped right into the code challenge. This one was much easier, and I finished it fairly quickly. I did have a question about the syntax of one line - but Kush more or less shrugged it off.

We went into the Q&A portion of the interview, which proved to be disappointing. I got the impression that App Academy is all about finding a job after the program is complete. I'm sure the kickback they get from the hiring company has something to do with it. Nevertheless, should you choose to found a startup, go back to your current company, or do anything but embark on the job search, expect to pay $18,000. You will be heavily encouraged to go the 18% route, as I was in the interview.

I found out a day later that I had been accepted and I had 7 days to respond to the offer. I realized that for the same tuition, I can attend Hack Reactor, which has nothing but glowing reviews from all over the web. Furthermore, AA has two locations, so keeping the quality of instruction consistent between SF and NYC can be an issue. I decided then and there that if I somehow managed to get into Hack Reactor in the next week, that would be where I end up.

Well, how did that go? Read part 3 to find out!

Valentyn Boginskey
Valentyn Boginskey

Valentyn is a system administrator turning web developer. He is passionate about privacy and virtual currencies. In his spare time, he enjoys mountain biking, skiing, backpacking, and racing go-karts.