Finding My Way Back to Launch School

Finding My Way Back to Launch School

"Your background looks great... you may start the paid courses at your convenience."

With that virtual nod from Launch School's founder, Chris, I officially enrolled in Launch School's Core Curriculum for software development. I had just finished the free prep course and was ready to embark on the next phase of the journey that Launch School calls the slow path for studious learners.

It was October 2020, and I was ready.

And more importantly, I was ready to set out on the path to becoming a software engineer. Excited and motivated, I was starting this new journey with as much energy and focus as I've ever had.

But then something happened. About two weeks into the first course, and just as I was about to complete the second to last lesson, I needed to devote a significant amount of mental energy and bandwidth to dealing with some personal family issues. As a result, the time and energy needed to focus on my studies with Launch School quickly dwindled, and by December, I had more or less put my studies on the back burner.

For the time being the road to becoming a software developer was put on hold, and as far as I knew it was put on hold indefinitely.

The Road to Software Engineering

For the previous decade I had been (and still am) a residential real estate broker, helping people buy and sell real estate all over the metropolitan area where I live. For most of that time I’ve also been the broker, meaning that I operate under my own license and firm. In more pedestrian terms, it simply means that I'm the boss— which, of course, is not quite as glamorous as it sounds, as I also own every other job title that goes with operating a business like this. If there’s a task to be done, in most cases I'm the one doing it.

For the most part helping people buy and sell real estate has been a solid career. It’s provided a good income while giving me the opportunity to run my own business, and much of the work involves guiding people through what is often one of the most stressful and financially significant events of their lives. Being able to help people navigate such a momentous time in their lives can be incredibly rewarding, especially when it involves donning the dual roles of successful negotiator and quasi-therapist, as the job often requires calming the nerves of clients who typically buy or sell a home only a few times over the course of their entire lives.

And yet for all of the benefits my career in real estate had provided, something had always been missing.

Somewhere at Museu del Disseny de Barcelona.
Photo by David Werbrouck / Unsplash

For as long as I can remember I've consistently loved doing two things— building stuff and solving problems. While my role as a real estate broker requires a fair amount of creative problem solving — negotiating deals and working through the inevitable challenges that real estate transactions bring — it tends to be the same problems requiring the same solutions over and over again. Don't get me wrong; meeting people, building relationships with them and helping them achieve a goal with so much at stake is a great way to spend a career. But solving the same problems over and over again can leave a mind that needs to be constantly challenged living in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction and longing for that next 'interesting' thing.

To put it bluntly, I was often bored with the core tasks involved with performing my job. Couple that with consistently working nights and weekends (often unpredictably) and the constant need to find new clients (which I've never liked), and you've got a recipe for an unfulfilling career. As a result, I was feeling as though I had hit a plateau and started to seriously think about whether or not there might be a viable path to making a near mid-life career change.

A path to a career in software engineering almost seemed inevitable. I've always had a deep interest in technology, even from childhood, whether obsessing over my first Nintendo gaming system or entering a command on an Apple IIe for the first time. A perpetual tinkerer, I was always fascinated by the underlying mechanics of how things worked.

Like many people, I had assumed that a career in software engineering started with a 4-year degree in a related field; and that if you didn't start there, you missed your chance unless you wanted to enroll in a program to get that degree. For me, I had studied philosophy and classical languages and literature, and by the time I had gotten curious about a career in software engineering, enrolling in a university program again did not sound appealing at all.

So what, then, does one do?

A few years back I had met a software engineer named Jeff. We were actually co-workers when I took a short gig as the Director of Sales for a real estate tech startup. Unlike the other engineers, Jeff didn't have any experience as a software engineer before joining the team; he didn't even have a degree in a related field. What he did have, though, was a certificate from a software engineering bootcamp.

Until then I had never heard of such a thing— an intensive program where within just a few months you could ostensibly learn what you need to know to start a career as a software engineer. It was an interesting datapoint at the time, and just that — a datapoint — as I wasn't quite ready then to broach the idea of switching my career into a different industry, to a position completely unrelated to anything I had ever done before. But the idea would stick with me— an idea that I would revisit again a few years later.

By early to mid 2020, I was ready to make that change I had been thinking about, even itching for. Remembering my former colleague, Jeff, who had leveraged a bootcamp to start a career as a software engineer, I started researching everything I could about bootcamps— course offerings, program duration, tuition, job outcomes, online reviews... literally everything I could get my hands on.

It was really enticing— the idea that I could invest just a few months to completely take my career into a new direction. But was it really possible, becoming a software engineer in just a few months time? Every bootcamp certainly said I could, with most waving around self-published reports showing statistics of 80-90% job placement within 6 months to a year of completing their programs. There was also a lot of polished marketing promising the prize of a new job in tech, while brandishing the logos of all the companies their graduates were working at.

It all sounded promising on paper. But as I continued to research the idea of attending a bootcamp to make a career change, and as I even started to narrow down potential choices, I never had a feeling of complete confidence that a bootcamp would be the right choice for me. While I attended several consultations and Q&A events with different bootcamps, I never left feeling like my questions were adequately answered or that even attending their bootcamp would be the right choice for me. And for all of the fancy marketing, for all the promises of how just a few months of study was all I needed to become a software engineer, and for all the self-reported "statistics" for job placement, none of it ever closed the "trust gap" for me. And if I couldn't totally trust a bootcamp with my future career, I certainly wasn't going to commit a sizable portion of my future salary to them either.

Discovering Launch School

I really wrestled with whether or not to attend a bootcamp. I badly wanted to get into software engineering, but the allure of bootcamp promises reeked just a bit too much of snake oil for my taste. And that cloud of distrust made me a bit nervous to take the bootcamp plunge.

Then one day it happened— some random person, in some random Twitter discussion about software engineering bootcamps, told some other random person that they should check out Launch School.

"Launch School...?" I thought.

I had never heard of Launch School, even though I felt like I had researched bootcamps to the high heavens and knew all the viable options out there. Still heavily in the research phase of things, off to Google I went...


One of the first things that stands out after a quick visit to Launch School's website: while you can digest what a bootcamp has to offer in about 20 minutes or less of perusing its website, it takes at least a few hours to fully digest everything at Launch School's website and really understand all it has to offer, from program goals, to its mastery-based approach to pedagogy, to what it really takes to launch a career in software engineering, to outcomes, etc. And while dense and lengthy (especially reading it's approach to mastery-based learning), having so much information available about the program was a massive breath of fresh air. What I really wanted was information, because how can one make a critical decision without sufficient information upon which to make that decision?

With bootcamps, I felt like the only thing I had to base a career-changing decision on was mostly lots of marketing material and self-reported outcomes that were fuzzy at best or deceptive at worst if you really studied the reports. There were student reviews at places like Course Report, but if you look closely, a large portion of those reviews are from current students early in their programs, not ones who actually finished and got a job they were happy with. But with Launch School, I felt it really laid everything out on the table. There was just so much information available to anyone willing to invest the time to review it— its informative website, lots of student-written articles on Launch School's excellent Medium publication, interviews with current and former students on its podcast, and, of course, a plethora of glowing reviews on Course Report . With so much information available, especially from students past and present, I felt I had enough information to make a truly informed decision.

Obviously traditional bootcamps work for some people — probably even a lot of people, depending on what your goals and expectations are. But for me, making a decision to attend a bootcamp felt more like a leap of faith than a calculated decision. And that bar just isn't high enough when there's a career and tens of thousands of dollars in educational costs on the line. By contrast, decisions of this nature need to be very, very calculated.

In short, Launch School closed the "trust gap" for me, which no other program was able to do. Nearly devoid of any marketing fluff, the approach wasn't to get as many students through the door as possible. Rather, Launch School presented itself as the right solution only if my goals aligned with the goals of the program— mastery over awareness, fundamental engineering principles over the trending framework of the moment, launching a career over just getting a job, taking the slow and studious path as the means to better long-term career prospects. It all really resonated with me, as I've never been one to take the shortest route if an exponentially better route lay ahead, even if that route were a little bit longer. In fact, it didn't just resonate with me; it was all leading to a very calculated decision based on the plethora of information available to prospective students, from the mastery-based pedagogy, to student articles and interviews, to the industry-leading salaries coming out of its Capstone program. Plus, at just $199/mo (at the time of writing) and no commitment for the Core Curriculum, there was virtually no risk.

So in September 2020, I started Launch School's free prep course.

Rediscovering Focus through Launch School

I finished Launch School's prep course mid-October 2020, and promptly enrolled in its Core Curriculum the same day. That effort swiftly died around December 2020 for the reasons mentioned above, and the next time I would invest serious time and effort into Launch School's program would be mid-July 2021.

And I am so glad I found my way back.

Ramping up and getting fully into the swing of studying again took about 6 weeks. Because I had taken about 7 months off, I had to go back and review everything I had learned before— a bit of a drag but a necessary step in getting back on track. Launch School is about mastery after all, not just getting by. In fact, there is no such thing as good enough at Launch School; you can't even move from one course to the next without passing one or two assessments per course with very high scores. Even when you do pass with high scores, you are still asked to go back and refine answers that while technically acceptable could still benefit from improvement.

By early September I had hit a stride of serious daily study and was once again making real progress. By the third week of September I had completed the first course, RB101, and by October 7th (my birthday!) I had passed the written assessment for that same course. Two weeks later I would pass the interview assessment, culminating in the completion and passing of my first Launch School course.

It felt amazing.

Learning software engineering is tough; we all know that. But the depth through which Launch School's curriculum takes you is especially difficult. Coupled with Launch School's very high standards, where conceptual fuzziness isn't allowed and the standard for excellence is mastery, passing assessments is a monumental achievement even for the best of us. This is especially true when you invest so much time and effort into not just knowing but mastering the course material. Best of all, because of Launch School's strict, high standards, when you pass an assessment you can rest assured that you truly have mastered the material at a high level.

At the time of writing, I am just on the verge of taking the assessment for my third Launch School course (there are 12 courses total in the Core Curriculum— 22 if you count the assessments). And what a ride it's been. Learning the course material, studying for the assessments and then subsequently passing the assessments has been one of the most rigorous academic experiences I've ever had; and this is coming from someone who studied philosophy and Greek and Latin in both college and graduate school. Some of that challenge no doubt comes from learning difficult material I've never studied before, but it also comes from the rigor of the Launch School curriculum and the high standards imposed on students for moving through the coursework.

As difficult and challenging as this path has been so far, I have a deep gratitude for it all. Even though the Core Curriculum is self-paced, with no live classroom instruction and no cohorts (the opposite is true of the Capstone program, of which the Core Curriculum is a prerequisite), I've been immersed in an amazing community of studious, focused learners, where the pursuit of mastery is a given, not an afterthought. And that feeling of mastery, coupled with the endpoint of the excellent career outcomes Launch School is known for, has given me a level of focus and excitement for my career I can't say I've ever had until now.

Without Launch School, I probably wouldn't be on this path to a new career in software engineering. Even with the plethora of bootcamps out there, it seems likely that I would never have felt confident enough to go down that route, with the high cost, the inability to leave once you start and the lack of confidence about the outcome once I finished. Especially with the significantly lower average salaries compared to Launch School's Capstone program, enrolling in a traditional bootcamp was even less appealing.

So thank you, Launch School, for helping me regain focus and excitement for my career, and for giving me what is likely the only viable opportunity I would have had to make the career change I so badly wanted... and probably even needed.

Onward and upward....