So you’re thinking of applying to App Academy…

The entire reason I have my current programming job is because of App Academy. App Academy is a great program, because they take people with talent but little programming experience and, after a nine week intensive course, graduates are able to get jobs with starting salaries averaging $100,000 a year. Best of all, you don’t owe them any tuition until you get a job.

If you want to know more, their website, and this interview my friend Buck Shlegeris did with App Academy will cover most of what you’ll want to know. Peter Hurford’s guide to learning to program also has good info. However, there are a few questions I’ve gotten from people considering applying to App Academy that I don’t think have been adequately answered elsewhere. So I’m going to try to answer them here, without repeating too much information already found in those other resources.

The website says you should expect 90-100 hours a week doing App Academy. Is that really true?

I’d be extremely surprised if more than a very few App Academy students spent 100 hours per week on the program. That said, you should still expect to put in 60+ hours per week.

100 hours per week on anything is crazy. Assuming you need 8 hours of sleep per night, that’s less than an hour and 45 minutes per day to do things like eat, shower, and do laundry. In reality, we had an hour and 30 minutes of scheduled break time during the “in class” portion of App Academy alone. I did have some late nights up studying for assessments, but that was only because of some poor planning on my part. With good time management, you should have no trouble getting plenty of sleep each night while doing App Academy. We had time to go out for drinks as a class every Friday night. I know we had at least one student in my class who was commuting from the east bay, and the commute time didn’t seem to cause any issues for them.

That said, App Academy will still require you to spend a significant chunk of your evenings and weekends doing homework. They’re absolutely telling the truth when they say that App Academy is incompatible with holding a part-time job at the same time you’re doing it, the way many people do with college. Also, if you’re already in the Bay Area and have friends there, don’t plan on seeing them much during App Academy. If you have a significant other in town, expect to be able to make time to see them, but probably nowhere near as much time as you’d like. I suspect conveying this idea is why they exaggerate the time commitment—better to be pleasantly surprised you have time to sleep, than to crash and burn because you thought you’d pretty much be able to show up 9 to 6 for the scheduled stuff and not do much otherwise.

A warning, though: when I aced the first assessment after definitely spending less time on App Academy than the website had advertised in my first two weeks, I got a bit cocky about the whole thing, which probably contributed to my failing the second assessment (there was also some holiday-related scheduling weirdness that didn’t help). Don’t make that mistake. If you go to App Academy, take it seriously, and be ready to keep “free time” activities to a minimum. But I’d also hate for anyone to be scared off from going because they think App Academy is only for people who can get by on 4 hours of sleep per night.

What are my chances of getting in?

It depends on who you are. App Academy rejects something like 95% of its applicants. But some people just “get” programming, and if you’re one of those people, you may find getting in to be pretty easy. I often use “implement bubble sort” (in a beginner-friendly language like Ruby or Python) as an example of one of the harder problems I had to do in order to get in to App Academy. I’ve told people that, and some will say, “oh yeah, I could totally do that.”

If you’ve never attempted to do any programming before, I recommend just going out and playing around a bit with Ruby or maybe Python and seeing how it goes for you. “Getting” programming seems to be somewhat correlated with being good at math, but the correlation isn’t perfect, so the easiest way to find out is probably just to try it and see what happens. You could even, as Buck suggests, apply to App Academy without much preparation at all: they send you prep work for their coding challenges, and the prep work won’t take that long to do, so why not?

When does it make sense to try to learn programming and/or try to find a job on my own, without App Academy?

If you’re already a solid programmer, by all means go looking for a job without doing App Academy. Save yourself the tuition money.

On the other hand, if you just have potential as a programmer, but don’t already have the skills needed to get a job, very probably you’re better off doing something like App Academy rather than trying to learn on your own. Most people can’t be self-motivated to put in the kind of intensive effort App Academy students put in without some kind of formal structure (even if we’re “merely” talking 60+ hours per week rather than 90-100). Also, in teaching yourself programming it’s easy to get “stuck” on one little thing for an inordinate amount of time. You Google and Google, but this time around neither the documentation or Stack Overflow is of any help. At App Academy, you have instructors there constantly to save you from wasting your time that way.

Of course, you could first try teaching yourself with something like Peter Hurford’s guide and then apply to App Academy only if it doesn’t go as well as you’d hoped. But I suspect for most people, unless they’re extraordinarily good at self-teaching, they’re better off not delaying and applying to App Academy right away, so as to get a job and start making money sooner.

Once I get in, any advice on how to get the most out of the program?

(This section added 2014/6/19.)

Buck has some advice on this in his interview, but I’ll copy and paste some additional advice I gave on LessWrong:

Listen to Ned. I think that was the main piece of advice people from our cohort gave people in the incoming cohort. Really. Ned, the lead instructor, knows what he’s doing, and really cares about the students who go through App Academy. And he’s seen what has worked or not worked for people in the past.

(I might also add, based on personal experience, “don’t get cocky about the assessments.” Also “get enough sleep,” and should you end up in a winter cohort, “if you go home for Christmas, fly back a day earlier than necessary.”)

Anything else I should know?

The links to the App Academy website in this post are my referral link. If you use it to apply, I’ll get money, like you more, and donate the money to effective charities like these. Everybody wins!

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