This is for those of you who are considering the Web Development course at Digital Career Institute. I’m not trying to do any advertising or anti-advertising here. It’s just that there’s not a lot of reviews out there that tell you all the important stuff about the course (and that aren’t sponsored reviews), so I hope my entry here helps.
One-year course vs. bootcamp
I took the 14-month Full-Stack Web Development course at Digital Career Institute gGmbH: full-time and remote. I refrained from taking a shorter course as for example the one Ironhack or le wagon offer, because from what I’ve heard these courses are not really worth their money. You might be able to build some web app with React after 9 weeks of bootcamp, but you’ll definitely lack deeper understanding and you’ll have to teach yourself a lot of additional knowledge after these courses. Also, allegedly, it’s not as easy as they promise in their ads to place a job in web dev right after these kinds of courses.
So, joining a longer course - as DCI offers - definitely seemed like the better option in comparison to coding bootcamps. WBS Coding School and Wild Code School offer courses about half a year long and those might be good as well, but I have no further inside knowledge about their courses. I stumbled upon a couple of reviews on Facebook and Reddit, some blog posts and some stories on Linkedin. But I’d definitely recommend talking to someone in person, who took a course there. Of course, the institutions themselves offer Q&As and have reviews and information on their sites, but it’s better to get some less biased insights by talking to actual pupils.
Anyway, checking the curriculums of different schools and educational providers, I found that your set of skills will be quite narrow at any of those schools - even with a 14-month course like at DCI. At DCI in particular, what you’ll learn is the so-called MERN Stack (MongoDB, Express, React, Node). You really learn it from scratch, which is a good thing - and it’s a really good starting point. From there, you can (more or less) easily learn other frontend and backend frameworks and build on your previous knowledge. Plus, you’ll see that there’s a lot of companies out there looking for React developers. So these skills are definitely something to work with. (Even though learning React is getting increasingly popular. So there’s competition on the job market for sure.)
Our teachers made sure everyone could follow along and no-one got left behind. Sometimes that made me wish the class would be divided in two groups - for people learning faster and such that take more time -, because the classes could be quite tedious with that amount of troubleshooting. I wasn’t really happy in the first place, when it turned out that our class consists of 22 pupils, when at application I was told it’s gonna be around 15. I guess, courses like those at DCI are really in the ascendant right now and maybe there wasn’t enough staff or teachers to keep the classes smaller.
Usually, DCI offers on-campus courses, but due to COVID they put those on halt and only offer remote (online) courses at the moment. They have campuses/offices in Berlin, Leipzig and other cities and apparently you can drop by there and even use workspaces there. But I never made use of that, because the Leipzig campus only opened up recently.
Online classes take place in Zoom, which worked surprisingly good during the whole year. You’re obliged to be logged in during class time, otherwise your teacher might report and you’ll have to fill out a form about your absence. I think you have to attend at least 50% of classes, otherwise you’ll fail.
The main communications channel is Slack. It worked well, too, though it was kind of a letdown, that they don’t offer the Pro or Business plan, which means you can’t access messages older than 90 days and will have to save important messages or course material for it not to get lost.
I quite liked the fact that the whole course took place online. The learning curves of the students in your class will differ quite a bit and I guess it’s hard to keep the classes entertaining for everyone in a classroom situation. So depending on yourself you might be either underchallenged or 'overchallenged'. When I got bored or wanted to learn by myself, I just turned off my camera, which I found to be a very convenient possibility.
The course structure at DCI was something like that from what I remember:
- Basic digital literacy (1 month)
- HTML, CSS (2 months)
- React (3 months)
- Backend (2 months)
- Final project (1.5 months)
- Application phase (2 months)
The daily structure was roughly
- “livecoding” before noon, where the teacher(s) showed you content by coding stuff live with shared screen and you code along and ask questions;
- then there’d be lunch break and after that you’d get an assignment to finish in the afternoon (or in the next couple of days - depends).
In the React module you’ll learn how to code Single Page Apps with React. It wasn’t always easy to understand the content straight away, if you haven’t worked with frameworks before and I think most of us had to read up on things in the React documentation after class. I found the assignments not very exciting, which kind of killed my motivation. I’d suggest collecting some ideas beforehand, what kind of SPA you’d like to do for yourself, otherwise you end up doing the same old restaurant or portfolio page, or to-do app, or calculator app as in every React tutorial.
(Aside: In our class, we only briefly looked at Class Components in React and focussed almost solely on Functional Components. I’d have loved to learn more about Classes and lifecycle methods and these things, but I guess it’s not completely necessary.)
The Backend part of the course was really messy. It seemed like our teachers had a really hard time getting everyone on the same level and teaching everything they wanted to teach in only two months. I’m sure there’s teachers who have a more structured way of introducing you to NodeJS, ExpressJs, MongoDB, mongoose, REST APIs etc., but you should be prepared to put some extra effort getting your head around these things. I did some “Full Stack for Front-End Engineers” video course, which helped me a lot. As I mentioned already, the teachers were very open to feedback and tried to adapt to the students’ wishes and suggestions. But still, I think almost everyone had to do some further reading on backend things.
In the final project phase you’ll develop a full stack app with about three other people from the course. You have 7 weeks for that and teachers are always there during class time for you to ask questions or ask for feedback. The final presentation will be held in front of teachers, DCI staff and some people from other classes.
After that, the application phase starts (which is somewhat misleadingly called the “internship phase” in the curriculum). Actually, you are supposed to do a two-month internship at some company, which is kind of no-brainer though, because internships of less than three months are legally unpaid in Germany - plus, when creating your CV and cover letter, you might as well apply for some permanent position or fixed-term employment or a longer, paid internship. During that phase you can consult the people from the DCI Career Service, who will check your CV and cover letter and give you feedback and are generally there to help you with your applications. Also, they said they’d forward your CV to partner companies and they eventually contact you about job opportunities. I don’t know how well this works though. Said Career Service also offers online lectures and Q&As with success stories, career advice and things like that. I didn’t attend a lot of them. You can learn about some companies, also about freelancing and life as a web developer. DCI also offers online job affairs and speedhiring events, which I didn’t attend either, because it got postponed and I found a job by then.
A little bit about extra assets that DCI offers:
Before the course starts (ideally), you’ll get sent some technical equipment for your course, which includes a laptop, a monitor, mouse, keyboard, headset etc. (The monitor and laptop you’ll have to return after the course.) I actually liked the fact that I didn’t have to use my own laptop for school and found it auxiliary.
Another thing that was helpful, was the fact that you’ll get access to the Github Students Developers Pack (plus a Github PRO account). That gets you some discounts on certain products and access to tools and tutorials and such.
As already mentioned, DCI offers their assistance in the application phase, which I appreciated. For me things were really smooth. I sent applications to two companies, got two invitations and got a job (fixed term, part time) straight away - didn’t even have to show my DCI certificate. However, other people in my class had a harder time landing a job. It depends a bit on what you’re looking for and where you live I guess. A nice cover letter is key. A good understanding of IT stuff and basic algorithms helped me during the interviews.
Regarding salary expectations: it really depends on the federal district you're in, I guess. But roughly I’d say, in case you'll be working 40 hours in web dev, 35.000€ brutto in the first year is a realistic salary; for a 20-hour position you might only get 15.000€ brutto/year. But after having worked for 1 or 2 years in web dev, you should be able to claim more. I’m not an expert on salaries though and I might be wrong here.
Other than that, you’ll have a lot of friends coming up asking you to do a website for them. :)
The DCI courses also include a weekly language course (German or English) that's mandatory. I don't know how it will be when on-campus training is happening again, but for remote teaching DCI is working together with an online learning platform called Lingoda, which in my opinion is not a good place to learn English. (They also offer German classes, which I can’t talk about.) I think we were the first DCI cohort that was in these Lingoda courses and that DCI didn't have a lot of insight into how well Lingoda works yet. There were complaints about the platform and DCI tried to adjust the language classes a bit, but it didn’t help too much. The English classes seemed poorly conceived and despite what was being advertised before course start (i.e. language classes oriented toward our professional field) the content of the lessons and classes was really generic. I can't rule out the possibility that the Lingoda courses might work for others (e.g. beginners or intermediate learners), but I didn’t find the C1 English course appropriate at all, because I expected to get prepared for a C1 Business English examination test, which wasn’t the case.
When I started getting into web development, these courses and bootcamps seemed to me like some mysterious places that you enter and when you exit you get all those skills and knowledge that seem so hard to acquire. But I learned that you won’t learn anything in those courses, that you wouldn't be able to teach yourself - e.g. by checking tutorials, free online courses and all that, or getting in touch with friends who code. If you're motivated enough. But surely, it's really helpful to be given a curriculum and structured learning and hearing about web development from people who work in the field and can give you really helpful feedback. So everything stands and falls with your teachers and your own motivation basically. I think DCI will equip you with certain skills and knowledge that's easily gonna get you a job. But I think there's still some improvements to be made in the class structure and all.