tl;dr this was the best career and life decision I have ever made.
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored review. I was not contacted by Big Nerd Ranch to do any sort of endorsement; all opinions expressed are my own.
That’s not an exaggeration. If you’re determined to be an iOS dev and want to learn both the fundamentals of Swift as language and how to intelligently design iOS applications in the shortest amount of time possible, then Big Nerd Ranch’s iOS Essentials with Swift bootcamp is the program for you.
The course will cost you $5200 ($4680 with a student discount) and a full week of undivided attention. It’s a substantial amount of money and commitment; to me, it was worth it. I took out a loan and will be repaying the entire $4680 along with the $356.39 it cost for me to fly there, with interest. I’m actually glad I have to pay this back; it’s an incentive to reach higher, work smarter, and not settle for less.
Some background on me and why I decided to take the course: I’m a twenty-one-year-old college senior double majoring in Computer Science and Economics with two years of programming experience in mostly C-style languages. I want to be an iOS developer after I graduate, but my school doesn’t offer any courses in Swift or mobile development. I’ve had one iOS development internship, and realized after it was over that I had plenty of room to grow as an engineer. I went in with an ambitious goal: to not only “learn more Swift” and “become a better engineer”, but to truly understand the language, its idioms, patterns, and why iOS applications were designed the way they were.
I had a great time, and can say with conviction that I’ve learned more from this condensed, intensive week than I would have in an entire semester of class at school. However, I was only able to get this much out of the course because my previous programming experience (and unwavering support from my advisor, professors, and classmates) laid a pretty solid foundation, and I knew what worked for me when it came to absorbing and retaining new information. Don’t expect to attend, not put in any effort, and emerge a more knowledgeable developer — you get out what you put in, and while you will always have help if you ask for it, no one will be holding your hand through the lessons.
The view from the classroom — behind the trees, you can see the lake and the namesake stone mountain.
The Big Nerd Environment
The course was held in the Marriott Evergreen Conference Resort in Stone Mountain, Georgia (or at least it was, until Irma decided to pay us a visit — more about her later). Our classes took place in one of the hotel’s conference rooms, which had a pretty standard setup of desks, a projector, and flip boards for the instructor to write on. There was a selection of snacks and a fridge stocked with beverages in case anyone needed refreshments during class (and believe me, we did).
The actual hotel rooms that we stayed in were super nice. My college-student definition of “luxury” is having a room to sleep in by myself. At the Evergreen, I got a room with two beds, a TV, a closet, a private bathroom, and my own balcony with a breathtaking view of the lake next to the hotel. Getting up at sunrise isn’t so bad when you get to sit outside and enjoy a calming view of the lake and tall trees silhouetted against a pink, blue, and yellow sky. 🙂
… and sunset.
The rooms, all of our meals, and transportation to and from the airport were all covered in the class fee, which meant that I got to indulge in the hotel’s buffet-style restaurant as much as I wanted to. The food was comparable to that of other restaurants, the staff was incredibly friendly and attentive, and we had a few reserved tables to ourselves.
Halfway throughout the week, Hurricane Irma hit and the Evergreen lost power. It was quite an adventure navigating the stairwells to my room and taking a shower in the dark; the class was told that we would be relocating to the JW Marriott in Lenox, Georgia.
This time, my room was one of the suites on the twelfth floor. I got a gigantic bed and a private bathroom with two mirrors, a shower, and a bathtub. The conference room at the JW was more spacious, and we ordered from a menu for meals rather than choosing buffet-style. There was some debate among the class about which hotel’s amenities were better, but I firmly stand by the JW. I mean, when else was I going to have an opportunity to take a luxurious bath and eat grape tomatoes while blasting Lana del Rey at 2 AM?
Unfortunately, this was the only picture I took of my second hotel room. The second room was for sure my favorite out of the two, though!
There was one instructor, one TA, and roughly twelve people in the course. All of us had a good amount of previous programming experience; most were already working as developers and had been sent there by their employers. Class started at 9 AM and ended at around 6:30 PM, with an hour lunch and thirty minute afternoon break, respectively. We worked through the Big Nerd Ranch Swift Programming and iOS Programming books, starting with Swift for the first part of the course and then applying the concepts we learned to iOS in the second part. Each section of the book started off with a lecture from either the instructor or the TA, and then students would work through the corresponding chapter in the book themselves. I also took the time after dinner (from 8 PM to midnight) to go back and review concepts I wasn’t really clear on, and to re-do certain projects in the book.
This ensured that I really dug deep and understood the why behind a lot of the examples, and made me feel sufficiently prepared for class the next day. The lectures are there to help you, but like I said before, you have to put in your own effort to truly understand the material.
By far, my favorite part of the day was always studying by myself at my fancy marble hotel-room desk after dinner, breaking the book’s example code on purpose to see what would happen, taking notes, and consulting Apple’s Swift documentation if I needed additional clarification. I tried my best to stop at midnight in order to get a full seven hours of sleep (although that didn’t always happen…).
This course was taught completely in Swift; even now, as I write this, I’m blown away at how versatile the language is. I’m well aware that, even with this intensive training, I have barely scratched the surface of it all.
Ultimately, Why I Decided to Go For It
I decided to send myself to coding bootcamp because, even as a computer science major, I knew I wasn’t doing enough to get myself to where I wanted to be once I graduated. My school doesn’t have an iOS program, and I’m a double major, which means taking five classes as well as writing a double senior thesis, which means that while I’m in my school environment, I definitely can’t work on diving deep into Swift and iOS. Sure, I could have bought the exact books we used in class and worked through them on my own time, but realistically, I could be spending as much time as I could afford to learn this stuff and still not get through by the time I graduated.
Environment is a huge factor that so many people overlook when it comes to taking their work seriously and maximizing productivity — physically being at camp and working solely on improving my skills for 7+ hours a day with others who had the exact same goals as me got me off of my ass and I finally started to make some real progress. I was no longer only doing iOS development in my free time. It was my main activity and only goal while I was at camp.
Why Big Nerd Ranch specifically? Well, my manager at URBN had personally recommended it to me, but I’ve actually known of BNR since I started programming. The books are pretty popular on the subreddits and coding forums I frequent (yeah, I’m a huge nerd), Big Nerd Ranch has done corporate training at big tech firms like Facebook, and, best of all, their program took only a week to cover what some other bootcamps took months or even years to go through. I like efficiency, and I love intensity, so it was a no-brainer for me.
One of my favorite quotes is from Jim Rohn and goes “If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.”
I really wanted to be a better iOS engineer, so off I went. That was it.
Taking walks along the lake with classmates was really refreshing and much-needed after being in class for hours at a time!
Know What You’re Getting Into
Before I end this post, I want to reiterate — you can’t expect to just drop some cash, go away for a week, and emerge a better developer. My biggest investment in this course wasn’t the money, but my own time and mental energy I devoted into getting better. Even now, post-camp, I’m going back through the chapters, reviewing concepts, breaking their sample code to see what kinds of funky errors I can get, expanding my own personal projects to reflect what I learned, and doing a whole lot of debugging. When you leave, you’re just getting started.
All that being said, this camp was time and money well spent. I’m a more confident and dedicated programmer; once I get more experience in industry, I’d definitely go back and take their Advanced iOS course.
I hope this review was helpful — if you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out.